Motorhomes in Ciudad Jardín. | Gemma Marchena


House prices up by 100%

In a week when the Balearic parliament approved the government's housing bill, by which 'limited-price housing' becomes law, there was further evidence - if it was really needed - of extremes that exist in the housing market.

Barely a week seems to pass without there being a report about house prices in Mallorca and the Balearics, and so we had one of multiple sources that supply these reports - property website Fotocasa - informing us that the average house price has risen more than 100% over the past ten years. Taking an 80-square metre property as reference, the average price in 2014 was 147,327 euros; it is now 307,811 euros. The increase is the highest among Spain's regions and places the Balearics slightly below Madrid (314,250 euros) as the most expensive region.

Fotocasa doesn't envisage any halt to the rise in prices, "so long as supply doesn't increase". The government's bill contemplates greater supply but only to a limited extent, as this was the parliamentary rubber-stamping of the decree whereby, for example, commercial premises can be converted into residential accommodation.

Rent caps could lead to a black market

At a seminar in Palma, speakers made a collective statement of the obvious - "there are no magic solutions to the housing problem in Mallorca". Referring to a Spanish government measure under new national housing law, one speaker, Professor Héctor Simón Moreno, director of the Unesco chair on the right to housing, was critical of rent caps, arguing that these will cause "unwanted collateral effects, such as the decrease in supply and the appearance of a black market". He was meanwhile supportive of the Balearic government's conversion policy.

Living in motorhomes

Some people excluded from the housing market have turned to living in motorhomes. In Son Güells in Palma there is a 'settlement' of some forty motorhomes. The owners will face sanctions by the town hall when a new bylaw is introduced. Fines up to 1,500 euros will be levied if motorhomes stay in one place for more than ten days. They insist that they live in the motorhomes because they haven't got anywhere else and are of the view that matters will get worse because of a shortage of affordable homes. They accuse the mayor of wanting to sweep the problem under the carpet and do nothing other than issue fines, which they won't be able to afford.

Illegal building and environmental controls

Rustic land is often misinterpreted as meaning only rural land, but it does also apply to land in urban environments for which there are no plans for development. A great deal of illegal building has occurred on rustic land, the control and inspection of this in 35 of Mallorca's 53 municipalities now being in the hands of the Council of Mallorca's agency for the defence of the territory. In 2023, there were fines totalling 3,356,228 euros and there were also fifty demolition orders.

Building on rustic land clearly has an implication for the general environment, and one body that has been at the centre of planning for the past fifteen years is the Balearic Environment Commission. The government, which wants to cut bureaucracy and simplify planning procedures, is doing away with this commission, maintaining that it creates unnecessary delays and obstacles and has been acting in accordance with political rather than just technical criteria.

The commission's principal function is environmental impact assessment. It has been instrumental in blocking major projects such as the planned 1,000-bed hotel and golf course in Sa Rapita near to Es Trenc beach. Critics of the government fear that scrapping the commission will result in less rigorous assessment and in an environmental cost to Mallorca.

Tourist overcrowding and the silent majority

The seminar in Palma was concerned with housing's relationship to tourism, the increase in tourist numbers over recent years having been largely attributed to the growth of holiday lets (legal and illegal). This is a facet of the social sustainability of tourism, with perceived tourist overcrowding being another element. Much is said about this sustainability and the overcrowding, but Spain's tourism agency Turespaña believes there is "a silent majority whose opinion often doesn't come to light".

The agency is to therefore conduct a survey of residents. At a national level, it will include Palma and certain other municipalities in Mallorca, the aim being to "put a scientific layer on the debate about overcrowding and know what a community thinks".

Too many restaurants?

For the CAEB Restaurants Association, there is a fear of restaurant overcrowding. Too many of them and quality could suffer and streets could end up being only for the nighttime, with other businesses being squeezed out. The president of the association, Alfonso Robledo, met the tourism minister, Jaume Bauzá, on Monday and proposed a moratorium on new bars and restaurants. The minister turned this down but suggested that new quality certifications could be an item of his upcoming tourism law.

The Alcudia electricity cable

Returning to the environment, the saga of the second electricity cable from the mainland continues. The proposed entry point in Alcudia is via the Bay of Pollensa, which residents are dead against. The Bay of Alcudia would be better, especially as the land route to a substation in Alcudia could follow an existing route for an underground high-tension cable. Opposition political groups at the town hall as well as residents are now demanding greater transparency in negotiations with the Spanish government. Alcudia's mayor insists that there is nothing as yet "concrete" regarding the route (sea and land). A residents' pressure group believes that everything has in fact already been decided.