Reuters/Staff Reporter

PALMA
SPAIN'S Environment Ministry is preparing a law to stop local authorities, including those in the Balearics, reclassifying protected land and concreting over more of the country's coastline, minister Cristina Narbona said yesterday.

Legislation, which could be approved by ministers today, will apply to all land included in an official list of ecologically sensitive zones called Red Natura 2000. “None of these areas will be eligible for reclassification ... The law aims to prevent changes that are designed to serve the interests of property developers or others,” Cristina Narbona told a business meeting.

Red Natura 2000 covers about a quarter of Spain's territory. “It covers the most valuable areas, which are registered with the European Union, and makes up almost 25 percent of all Spain's land area -- more in places like the Canary Islands,” she said.

Spain's booming construction industry has succeeded in building on much of the country's coastline over the years. Cities like Madrid now have sprawling suburbs and many small towns have ambitious growth plans.

Yet dozens of cases of corruption have been uncovered in town halls, which are often under-funded by the central government and sell building permits as a way of raising money. Although they can in theory be overruled by regional governments, local authorities have the power to reclassify land and can turn farmland and protected areas into rows of terraced houses, apartments and golf courses.

Environment Ministry figures show that between 1990 and 2000, Spain's urban area increased 25 percent, while the population rose only four percent.
Provinces such as Malaga, Barcelona and Alicante have built up more than 50 percent of their coastline.
In Majorca, corruption is being investigated in Andratx.
Local environmental groups are constantly calling on the authorities to do more to save the remaining unspoiled landscape, considered one of the island's greatest assets for tourism, the main industry.

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