To Rehabilitate or Not to Rehabilitate? It’s Now or Never!
The new Galician Rehabilitation Law, the first of its kind anywhere in Spain, was created with the objective of streamlining bureaucratic procedures for the restoration of historic town centres and rural population hubs and boosting the rehabilitation culture.
Subtitled “Rehabilitation, Renovation and Regeneration”, it’s known as the “Three Rs Law”, and it governs both the rehabilitation of buildings and the recovery of urban spaces.
The law focusses mainly on recovering buildings that fail to comply with functionality, safety or habitability requirements, and from the urban planning perspective it represents a commitment to Integral Rehabilitation Areas as a way of intervening in communal buildings and public spaces.
The reality is that built cultural heritage in Galicia is in danger. Not only the abandoned buildings that can be seen in historic urban centres, but also many rural structures, both single buildings and complete villages, have been left to fall to pieces by their owners.
The geographical ties that used to keep them standing have gradually disappeared as local populations have migrated to other areas. But this neglect has deeper roots in our social culture.
In Galicia, parent’s assets are inherited equally by their sons and daughters. This division of estates causes properties to lose their original character, and consequently to be neglected by both owners and neighbours. Although from a social perspective it may seem unfair, systems in which the eldest heir is able to guarantee the passing down of property through the family do at least contribute to preserving that heritage.
The continuous dividing up of properties also makes them much more difficult to manage. In situations where a building has a high number of owners, obligatory maintenance work is complicated by the difficulty of getting people who either don’t know each other or who get on badly with each other to come to any kind of agreement. As a result, the heritage is abandoned, falls into disrepair and eventually disappears.
To reverse this situation, an attempt is being made to alleviate heritage loss by providing local administrations with tools that will allow them to expropriate buildings as a first step towards their rehabilitation. “Following all the prescribed notifications, and in case of recurrence, the administration may take possession of the property for half its assessed value”.
Another controversial measure is the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles by relieving the regional heritage agency of the control it previously exercised. The aim is to facilitate intervention in historic urban centres by cutting out the paperwork involved (except in cases of assets of cultural interest), and thereby streamlining procedures and improving coordination between administrations. 0}
The law sets out a series of directly applicable rules for situation governed by a special protection plan, making it possible to reduce obstacles to rehabilitation while upholding the basic criterium of protecting elements which deserve to be conserved.
Admittedly, the difficulties mentioned above are compounded by administrative complications when carrying out work in buildings. However, the measure is being analysed with great preoccupation in view of the fact that many local councils lack the technical resources needed to protect their cultural heritage.
Excessive protection may hinder the ongoing maintenance of heritage buildings, but rehabilitation work should nevertheless guarantee the preservation of heritage values.
In line with the principle that the best way to conserve is to occupy spaces and generate activity there, all the actors involved need to address rehabilitation by prioritising the conservation of those elements most representative of our building tradition, our history and our identity.
Can we do that? I agree with the opinion of a colleague from a rehabilitation office in a small town on the Galician coast: It’s now or never!