How to Get a Building Licence (Planning Permission) in Spain, Malaga Province, and Marbella?

This is a summary of the basic information and questions that many foreigners ask when they first encounter the system. In this article I discuss licences for a new build (obra mayor). Licences for renovations and interior work are not covered here. Call me if you have a specific project and want more detail.

First of all each municipality or town hall has an independent system. Some are fast, some slow, some digital, some not. The political hue is important and this can change every 4 years.

The taxes raised by each municipality when they issue the licence vary. Some comprise different percentages of different amounts and the figure may have two or three separate components. As a back of the envelope figure expect the tax payable for the building licence in total to be around 5% of the building cost.

The planning officers in Spain tend to be architects and the chief planning officer maybe referred to as the municipal architect. Part of their job is to approve building licence applications.

Being architects they like an architect who understands the rules to have drawn the building, its shape, volume, and position on the plot, and to have confirmed that it conforms with the rules. In theory there is nothing stopping you making your own building licence application but in practice you need a Spanish architect.

While the rules vary from place to place they are straightforward for “urban” land and public knowledge. They can often be found on the local authority website. They relate to the size of the building in square metres that is expressed as a percentage of the plot, the footprint, the height, and the distance from the boundaries.

There may be some aesthetic considerations, such as all buildings in this zone must have traditional clay tiles on a pitched roof, but more normally there aren’t. Sometimes there is an ownership club on a gated estate that monitor aesthetic conditions.

The point is that if you fulfil the conditions you get the building licence. You don’t have to worry about neighbours rights of light because these are incorporated into the rules.

Normally there are some matters of interpretation such as the height of the building over an uneven terrain. If you are allowed to build to 7 metres for example then imagine a line 7 metres above the lie of the land. Your building must fit beneath it. The question of interpretation arises perhaps because the terrain is uneven or the base point is ambiguous perhaps because of debris on the site. In these cases you need to get the planning officers opinion before you submit the application. You want to avoid submitting an application that gets turned down because turnaround is very slow and it’s a great waste of time.

To do this your architect will have a face to face meeting with the planning officer, present the drawings, and agree the solution. Its best to get an email confirmation or something in writing but this if often not possible and you rely on the personal relationship between your architect and the planning officer. If your architect has to go back several times then, once the process is started, it’s best to keep up the momentum.

The personal style of the local planning officer is important. Some are easy to work with and some aren’t. The ones that aren’t may tell you they used to be flexible but they got in trouble of some kind or someone took advantage of them and since then they interpret the rules very strictly.

As a general rule municipal architects are cautious. There are no back handers anymore. Breaking the rules is a criminal offence and some have gone to jail. There is no incentive for them to be what you might call reasonable.

Once the application is submitted the paperwork has to go around various departments and get authorised by each one. The department of Infrastructure has to authorise it and they have to see favourable reports from Acosol (water company) and Endesa (Electricity company). Then it goes to the Department of Juridical Services, if their report is positive, it goes to the Mayor or the Secretary of the Council for their signature and final approval.

The PGOU is a critical document (Plan General de Ordenacion Urbanistica). Essentially it’s the map of the local area that depicts land zones for development, the rules that relate to each zone, protected land, communications development and so on. The PGOU will determine the particular rules that apply to a plot of land you are interested in or own. Its approval is a political process that can be controversial and take years.

The PGOU for Marbella town hall is a good example. There was one approved in 2010 but it was annulled by the Spanish Supreme court. The 2010 PGOU was an attempt to legalise many illegal developments that had previously been approved under an allegedly corrupt administration. With the 2010 plan annulled we are currently operating under the 1986 plan. So if you have a plot of land that was “urban” in 1986 you are ok. If not then forget a building licence until a new PGOU is approved. It may take years to approve a new plan.

Some zones are restricted by infrastructure. For example perhaps the current sewerage system is overloaded so there are no new building licences granted in that area until the sewerage system is upgraded. That is a separate process that has to be funded and may take years – no one knows!

How long does it take to get the licence? This also varies greatly between municipalities. The fastest is Benahavis. It only took two months recently to get two separate building licences. The slowest is Marbella town hall where it takes so long we can’t measure the length of the queue. It is at least a year and used to be three years but I think that has come down now. You should really expect to have to wait between 3 and 6 months maybe more.

If you work with us then we will work with you on the execution project which is the specification and the bill of quantities while we are waiting for the building licence to come through. This is a crucial document and important that it is detailed so the waiting time is not all lost time.

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida Homes and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with over 24 years experience living and working in Spain.

Eco Vida Homes is a team of Architects, Technical Architects, Builders, an Engineer, and a Chartered Surveyor. We help people design and build beautiful energy efficient home, designed for Mediterranean livin, in Marbella and Southern Spain. There are two things that make us stand out: a sharp focus on our clients’ needs and everything we build is comfortable and energy efficiency………..It’s like Grand Designs………… only without the drama.