Javea and the Ley de Costas

Jávea's stormy relationship with the "Ley de Costas"

by Chris Betterton-Jones
June 2011

The Ley de Costas

In the beginning there were no laws controlling coastal development in Spain. People could build houses, hotels, and restaurants on the edge of the sea, block public access to the beaches and generally privatise the coastline. The housing boom made matters worse and in 1988 the Spanish Government passed the "Ley de Costas" - or Coastal Law - which was designed to make the whole of the Spanish coastline a public domain and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation. The law lays down a number of zones extending inland from the shore. The first is a public promenade 6 metres wide, which can be extended to 20m. Then there is a zone of restricted development which is 100 to 200m wide in urban areas and up to 500m in non urban areas.


The Ley de Costas covers the whole of the Spanish coast and is enforced through the national "Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino" - (Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine affairs) The regional office is based in Alicante (Servicio Provincial de Costas en Alicante). Municipal authorities are obliged to act on behalf of the Ministry as the enforcers of the law. The problem is that the law is often ignored or even flagrantly abused and people get away with it because of lax enforcement by Town Councils. This has been the case with Jàvea/Xàbia which is now suffering the consequences.

Old Properties

The Coastal law governs the use of properties built on protected land before 1988. If the owner can prove the property is legal, they can apply for a concession enabling continued use for 30+30 years, otherwise the building will be demolished. The concession can however be removed at any time if the authorities feel it is in the public interest to do so. In February this year, the Hotel Miramar and the tobacconist in Xàbia Port were under threat of demolition when the Ministry (commonly referred to as "Costas") indicated its intention not to renew the concession. Similarly the building which currently houses the Tourist Office and local Police Station in the Port is under threat. In this case it is because the building belongs to the fishermen's guild, and they were given special dispensation since it was designated as their offices. However it has not been used by the fishermen for years. Instead the sea-facing part has been let to the Pòsit bar since the 1960's and the Town Hall has rent-free use of the other side. Costas is wise to this and has decreed that the fishermen must take back use of the building by June 23rd 2011 or it will be demolished.

Public Promenades

As law enforcer, the Town Hall is obliged to ensure the public right of way along the coast. In Xàbia this led to a six year dispute with a private landowner and ultimately the demolition of walls blocking the coastal path behind Caleta Cala Blanca. It also led to the enforced removal of restaurant chairs and tables which had encroached onto the public promenades of the Arenal and the Avenida Marina Española in the Port. Failure to remove these chairs and tables would have resulted in Jávea beaches not being awarded any blue flags for two years. The Arenal restaurants have really chanced their arms, since strictly speaking, their covered terraces are already on public land, and this abuse is one of the reasons why it has not been possible to develop the promenade properly. In 2010 Costas threatened to demolish them. Unfortunately the first of the 30 demolition orders was issued to the British run Presidents Bar, stimulating accusations of xenophobia among the British community. It seems that a moratorium proposed by the then opposition PSOE councillors was negotiated by the Town Hall to halt the demolitions, but follow-up details were not publicised.

Beach Bars

Chringuitos (beach bars) have also bent the rules to breaking point. Costas grants seasonal concessions to allow chiringuitos to operate on the beach during the summer. There are strict guidelines. For example, the ground area used must not exceed 20m2 and the bars must be no less than 200m apart. Needless to say the regulations are flouted whenever bar owners think they can get away with it. A couple of years ago some bars blatantly exceeded their allocated space (400m2+ being reported), and Costas fined them. However, the bars made so much money from the extra tables, they were happy to pay the fines. Costas was not amused, and insisted that the Town Hall should enforce the law, or they would disallow the concessions altogether.

Conflicts between Interests

Costas, i.e., the Ministry of the Environment is rightly trying to control and regulate the use and development of the coast through the "Ley de Costas", and they do not look kindly on bold-faced abuses of the law. However they are open to negotiation if a good case can be made. Inevitably there will be conflicts between various users of our valuable and limited coastline. The important thing is that the Town Council should, though public dialogue, determine what is in the best public interest. Then come to a compromise agreement involving all interested parties and, if necessary, negotiate this case with the Ministry in Madrid in order to obtain concessions. Members of the incoming administration have already advocated this approach. With dialogue and compromise the days of menace and threatened demolitions could become mere memories.

Post Script:

Canal de la Fontana

The situation at the Canal de la Fontana, next to the Parador, illustrates how complex issues can become when concessions are granted to different bodies. This canal is under the control of at least four bodies:
From the sea to the road bridge: Costas;
From the bridge to the slipway: Concession to the Valencia Government, used by members of AEXAMAR, possibly with management by Nou Fontana Marina.
The land behind the slipway: The Town Hall;
The private marina: Private company - Nou Fontana Marina
For more about the canal see: Canal de la Fontana


Ministry of the Environment

Auken report highlights problem of Ley de Costas for property owners in Spain
Spanish Property Insight - April 1st 2009

Ley de Costas – Coastal Law
Spanish Property Insight

Xàbia solicita a Costas una mayor ocupación para los chiringuitos

Los 'chiringuitos' de verano en la Comunidad cerrarán a las 4:30 horas de la madrugada

Xàbia creará una comisión de trabajo para abordar la solución de las terrazas del Arenal

Truce called - Round Town News- 1 April 2010

La Cofradía de Xàbia recupera su antigua sede para evitar su derribo

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