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Licensed to Build PDF

By Liam Kellehar

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, November 2009



Like many, I have been impressed by the Daniel Craig characterisation of James Bond. The result seems more basic with fewer gimmicks. But less well known, since the scene is edited out of every film, is that when relaxing (in between killing people), Mr Bond will place his feet upon a desk, retrieve an issue of Olive Country Life from where he stashed it, protected from the routine of his daily life and proceed to read one of my articles.

It is for this reason that I am sure that when our favourite secret agent comes to hang up his holster and retire to a more tranquil life here in Spain, he will change his sobriquet and become, “007 (retired), licensed to build.”


I have in previous articles mentioned the importance of getting the requisite licences.  Whether they be for minor alterations (obra menor) or any structural work (obra mayor). I also felt that as the recession bit, the town hall funcionarios would find themselves with time on their hands and would be more vigilant in seeking out the unlicensed - if only to prove that they were value for money. This seems to be the case. I have seen a rise in the number of people requesting my help to obtain retrospective compliance.

This upsurge in funcionario diligence can be easily explained. You may have noticed that at least one ayuntamiento has recently declared itself bankrupt. In the years of plenty, town halls found themselves with a useful source of income from building development licences. Indeed this became the ayuntamiento’s major earner. The many years of deprivation in this region meant there was plenty of undeveloped land and much needed reconstruction. But I am sure that some of you have already spotted the flaw in this financial strategy. It is called The Law of Diminishing Returns. Eventually you start to run out of land for building, and you have already employed all those funcionarios to deal with the administration. Those employees, that were so necessary for the ayuntamiento’s earning capacity, are now just a drain on resources. Spanish employment law means that they are not so easy to get rid of.

A number of alcaldes came up with a bright idea. If a flagging fiesta can be given extra life by someone turning up at the door with another crate of beer, why not just zone more land for building. And so the party continued. However the Junta de Andalucía decided to call time on all this merriment with the Plan de Ordenacíon del Territorio de Andalucía (POTA). Amongst other things, this sets out a limit on the amount of zoned building land that each pueblo can have. So now the ayuntamientos are looking around for ways to subsidise their income and what do they see? All those unlicensed properties, which they were too busy to deal with before.

I should note that building a property and getting it legalised at a later date is not the cheap option. Clients are disappointed to find that the gaining of a retrospective licence is not merely a case of the architect turning up on site, giving the building a cursory glance and signing various bits of paper so the authorities can stamp it approved. Unlike a building survey, the architect cannot claim that any structural faults that are not readily visible are not his concern. He takes full responsibility for the construction of the building, as if he had designed it and supervised the work on site.

Put plainly, any shoddy workmanship, such as incorrectly installed plumbing, currently the responsibility of the building owner to fix when it leaks, can now be charged against the architect’s indemnity insurance. As ASEMAS, my insurers, take a dim view on any call on their funds and I am not keen to squander La Niña’s inheritance, legalisation involves a full set of drawings and specification and on site exploratory inspections (catas). Noticeably defective work will require rectification. For some reason this comes as a shock to many people. On one occasion I was viewing a building of somewhat dubious construction. I had advised the sensible course of discussions with the ayuntamiento to ease the process,and suggested that the building remained un-rendered until the local perito (town hall technical employee) had seen it.

“But I’ve got a friend coming over to help me render it this weekend!” I was told.

“Oh! So a friend’s disappointment at having her weekend plastering disrupted trumps qualified architect giving sensible advice,” is what I felt like saying. Of course it actually came out as, “I really don’t think that you should cover up the structure until the perito has seen it and commented.”

So my advice to anyone that wants to involve themselves in a construction project. Take a leaf out of James Bond’s book. Make sure that you are “Licensed to build.”

Liam Kellehar BA (Hons) Arch., RIBA, COACo no 570, is a British qualified architect registered to work in Spain.  He  lives in the Sierra Sur area of Andalucía.  He can be contacted by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by mobile telephone on 690 721 141.