Seven-figure fines could be imposed. | Gemma Andreu

The "hortals" of Minorca are small settlements of buildings on rustic land, the origin of which was essentially illegal.

In 2003, the PTI territorial plan for Minorca sought to regularise the situation, to definitively eliminate additional building pressure and to demolish buildings that were not or could not be legalised. The plan was a failure in this regard.

There has more recently been another plan and there has also been the Balearic government's land law of 2017. The number of dwellings in these hortals has roughly doubled since the 2003 plan considered them. There are now some 4,000, and owners say that they face a "very worrying situation". The Consortium for the Protection of Development Legality on Rustic Land, a body which comprises town halls and the Council of Minorca, is said to be applying regulations with "absolute vigour". This entails fines of seven figures and demolitions of new buildings and ones that have been newly renovated.

The owners, represented by the Minorca Association of Hortals, believe that the consortium is acting in a way that is not humane and neither politically or socially correct, given that these are settlements where many of the owners have their main and habitual residence.

The association accepts that owners have to assume some responsibility for knowing that building went ahead when it shouldn't have. But it places most of the blame on local authorities for illegalities in the past. They did not stop the large-scale segregation of settlements and were permissive in having allowed building without legal protection at a time when there was no regional regulation as such.

Consequently, the association argues that politicians should assume their responsibilities and reach compromises with the owners of these 4,000 or so properties. The payment of fines is not a way out of the problem as they are unaffordable, especially at a time when families are facing a serious financial crisis, while this does nothing for "protecting the land".