As I left home to start my university career, my father, perhaps in a fit of later-life crisis, decided to invest in a flat in south-east Spain. Here my parents have a fixed holiday location which they can rent out to tourists for the rest of the year. Buzzing at the prospect of a free holiday, my sister and I accepted the offer to spend 2 weeks away at this flat in La Manga Club, Murcia.
The property is located inside a large complex – with security guards and entrance points, the walled perimeter makes you feel a bit like you’re in Bel Air. Inside there are little ‘communities’; these pseudo-villages contain properties built around a community pool, sometimes with shops and restaurants. People buy these homes and rent them out before retiring here permanently. There are community committees which organise everything from social activities to maintenance – it’s all super-efficient and pretty adorable.
Lots of these businesses are run by British ex-pats, and those that aren’t have entirely bilingual staff. In this sectioned-off community, English is the lingua franca. It’s like being in a little British bubble, only without rain or the Daily Mail.
However, inside this bubble of holiday homes the signs of Spain’s huge construction crisis are still visible. Some homes have languished so long on the market they have fallen into disrepair. Others have been repossessed, their owners bankrupt. One flat for sale had no electric or water running through it and some construction projects remain unfinished; at the entrance to the complex, one house stands tall whilst another, its intended pair, is just a shell.
Outside the British bubble, the construction crisis is even more obvious. Half-finished multi-storey car parks and blocks of flats remain gated off with handwritten ‘for sale’ signs attached. There are even entire websites dedicated to selling repossessed homes.
Unfinished projects are rivalled by entirely pointless ones. The previous Spanish government was renowned for commissioning ridiculous and unnecessary construction projects. On the side of a motorway in the middle of nowhere there is a half-finished car park. In Castellón, Comunidad Valenciana, there is an 150 million euro airport which ‘opened’ in 2011 but has yet to see a real plane.
Spain is clearly still suffering from the effects of its construction collapse. 12% of the population worked in the industry, and most of these people lost their jobs – many were unskilled migrant workers, now unemployed and unaided by the state. The Spanish people are in 650 billion euros worth of mortgage debt.
But it’s not all about construction. Spain may be a relatively cheap, convenient holiday destination, but it’s also an economy in around 950 billion euros of debt with 55% youth unemployment – so next time you moan about graduate job prospects, take a step back and consider yourself lucky. Your Spanish counterpart’s future is a lot bleaker than yours.