National Urban Policy of Spain
With the approval of its new Constitution in 1978, Spain was transformed froma centralised administration into 17 autonomous communities, each with fullpowers on a wide range of issues including designing urban policies togetherwith local councils, which have a high degree of autonomy, besides twoautonommous cities, Ceuta and Melilla. But through the appropriate ministerialdepartments central government mainly develops urban policies for housing andland, transport and communications or the urban environment.
This structure lays down three levels of government involved in the design ofurban policies: National, Autonomous (Regional), and Local (Municipalities).
Spain has seen rapid population growth, especially from 1960-1970 and 1970-1980,encouraged by the increase in industrialisation of the metropolitan areas oflarge cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao and Saragossa. From1960-1970 all of these urban areas had annual population growth rates of morethan 3%, and in Madrid’s case over 4%. 1970-1980 also saw rapid populationgrowth but at a reduced rate, 2% (Madrid) or less. Population growth declinedconsiderably in the decades which followed, bottoming out towards the end of1990-2000. Since 2000 in particular continued migration has contributed to asteady increase in the natural rate of growth.
Spain has a population of 43,197,684 (2004) with a density of 85inhabitants/km2, placing it halfway in the European ranking between the moredensely populated central European countries and the less populated nations tothe north.
Rapid population growth from 1960 to 1980, concentrated in the metropolitanareas of large cities, produced a serious shortfall in infrastructure, housingand facilities, and a consequent deterioration in urban life quality. From themid-1970s this combined with industrial decline in places such as Bilbao and thecentral area of Asturias, home to the iron and steel and shipping industry whichwent into crisis throughout Western Europe.
Since the new Constitution came into force, the decentralisation ofgovernment has helped to improve the quality of urban life throughout the wholeof Spain, with the allocation of more resources for cities and autonomousregions, economic improvement and the nation’s commitment to providinginfrastructures, communications, facilities and housing.
The housing development growth rate in recent years has been
spectacular andremains buoyant. But it has been coupled with sharp
housing price increasesmaking it very difficult for a large
percentage of the population to buy a home.The reduction in the
house sizes and the constant increase in migrationgenerates new
Spain’s urban population is concentrated in four major urban areas each withmore than 1,000,000 inhabitants (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville) andlocated, with the exception of Madrid, on the peninsula’s periphery; 9 urbanareas of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 inhabitants (Bilbao, Malaga, the centralarea of Asturias, Saragossa, Alicante/Elche, the Bay of Cadiz, Vigo/Pontevedra,Murcia and Las Palmas in Grand Canary); 35 urban areas of between 100,000 and500,000 people; and 30 urban areas of between 50,000 and 100,000 inhabitants.There are thus 78 urban areas throughout Spain with more than 50,000inhabitants.
Physical characteristics, communications, the location of industrial enclavesand coastal tourist settlements all mean that the population is unevenlydistributed and concentrated particularly in the peninsula’s periphery and theMadrid metropolitan area, which is situated in the sparsely populated centre ofthe country.
Apart from the Madrid metropolitan area which is witnessing high growthrates, the populations of smaller urban areas such as Malaga, Alicante/Elche andin particular Murcia and Vigo/Pontevedra are also expanding rapidly. The growthtrend in the outlying regions of the peninsula (in the tourist areas along theMediterranean coast) and the central area around Madrid thus remains constant.
The Autonomous Communities have full powers to design urban policies, withthe legislative capacity to approve their own urban laws. Town councils at alocal level also participate in the design and implementation of urban policies.
Central government also develops its own urban policies in accordance withits powers in areas such as housing, land, communications and transport.
Spain experienced a very slow natural growth rate from 1990 to 2000 aswell as one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, well below the European Unionaverage. In 1996 Spain’s average number of children per woman was 1.16 against1.44 in the rest of the EU. The continued increase in emigration since 2000 hascaused this indicator to climb, but it still remains below the European average.Population ageing raises many problems such as the provision of retirementpensions, health care and a greater demand in facilities for the retiredpopulation.
An increase in migration produces diverse effects: on the one hand arejuvenation of the population, more young workers in the job market andconsequently more contributions to the social security system, while on theother hand it increases demand for facilities and housing and raises socialintegration issues.
Housing is one of the biggest problems for citizens, since some sectors ofthe population do not have enough income to buy a home in the market, eventhough there is currently enough housing to meet the demands of the entirepopulation. One of the housing occupancy characteristics in Spain is the lowpercentage of rental properties (11% according to the 2001 census), well belowthe European average. Apart from home ownership assistance, the new NationalHousing Plan 2005-2008 encourages occupancy of rental properties, favouringgroups with low incomes and special needs, with a particular focus on theyoung.
Of particular importance is the issue of second homes, strongly
connected totourism, which is mainly concentrated on the Spanish
peninsula coast, especiallyalong the Mediterranean. The
construction boom evident for some time now hasaccelerated in
recent years, and is exerting huge pressure on the environmentand
using up extensive land areas. It is therefore vital to promote
activepolicies, based on urban planning instruments and observance
of the law, toassure sustainable long-term urban development; more
importance should thus beplaced on the restoration and
revitalisation of the present urban structure.
Significant effort has been made in recent years with the building of majortransport infrastructures, the creation of new facilities and the regenerationof city centres, all of which have markedly improved the urban environment.Central, regional and local government have all played a part in carrying outthese large-scale operations.
Like other departments in Spain’s central government, the Ministry of Housinghas urban policy-making powers. These policies are mainly developed through thefollowing instruments:
- State legislation on land and valuation: the existing state law
6/98,modified in 2003, is being reformed, so that new legislation
will soon beavailable. This law establishes the regulation of
certain issues which affecturban development such as the basic
rules for land, basic conditions on equalityin exercising affected
constitutional rights and land valuing criteria.
- Housing Plan (2005-2008), which reflects the degree of
coordination andcooperation with other levels of government
involved and agents from the sector.The main changes and areas of
funding of the new Plan are the promotion ofrental housing and
regeneration of the residential urban structure
throughComprehensive Restoration Areas and specific help for young
- Land Policy. The Ministry is developing the state-owned land
managementpolicy for land not currently being used by the
government, to set it aside forfacilities and state-subsidised
housing. Management of this will be agreed withthe autonomous
regions and local councils. Much of this land formerly housed
oldMinistry of Defence military installations and disused Ministry
of Public Worksrail and port facilities. Other cases involve land
acquired by SEPES (a publicbody specialising in land development
and reporting to the Ministry of Housing)for development of housing
estates or business parks. This policy has resultedin nearly 6
million m2 of government land being made available for
30,000state-subsidised houses and another 2 million m2 set aside
for social use, suchas educational, cultural and public health
- Urban Information System (Sistema de Información Urbana - SIU).
The Ministryof Housing is developing an information system using
statisticalsocio-demographic statistical variables to understand
the urban and territorialrealities. This system will be used to
help produce reports and monographicstudies, urban policy
decision-making processes and provide greater markettransparency of
land matters. The SIU’s last publication was the ’StatisticalAtlas
of Urban Areas in Spain 2004’.
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