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Laura Martín Ros. ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos. UPM.

In the municipality of Guardamar del Segura (Alicante), there is a beach called Babilonia Beach, which is characterized by the presence right by the sea of the Casas de Babilonia, small villas located on the beach.

These villas were designed at the beginning of the twentieth century with the intention of serving as a barrier to the village of the wind transport of the dunes and in the 50s they were built by the public administration, and later loaned as administrative concessions. The presence of these constructions in the profile of the beach has caused, over the years, the following problem: the disappearance of the dunes in that area, preventing the sand system from regenerating naturally.

In addition, the reform of the breakwater at the mouth of the Segura River between 1991 and 2012 (Picture 1) has modified the coastal dynamics of the area, causing the sands loss on the nearest beach, Platja dels Vivers and, therefore, on the Babilonia Beach which is the following one. This intervention was carried out without any previous Environmental Impact Study.

“Picture 1. Breakwater Orthophotos. A) Original breakwater (1980). B) Breakwater modification (2012). (Source: IGN)”.

The deterioration of Babilonia Beach has reached high level, and because of that Guardamar City Council has been forced to close the beach to the public on several occasions since the area presents a high risk to human health as the overflow goes into the houses, and many of them are in a deplorable situation due to the Coastal Law itself. That law allowed the owners of these concessions to enjoy the usufruct right of the houses until 2018 but also it forbade them to make any repairs, since they were situated less than 100 m from the seashore as the current law dictates. Thus, until the end of the concession, the houses could not be demolished, but neither repaired, which has led to the dangerous state in which they are.

So, we have here a clear example of two bad performances. First of them, Casas de Babilonia shouldn’t have been built so near to the seashore because it negatively affects the dynamic system of the beach, and secondly, it should have been done a correct and detailed investigation on bathymetry, sedimentology and waves propagation in this area before building a breakwater to protect the nearby port. This construction, aimed at the opposite side of the one that should, in addition with the storms that this area suffers regularly, has contributed even more to the destruction of the dune system, which is essential for the coastal system.

Due to this malpractice, Babilonia Beach is currently in an advanced state of degradation and every year it presents less sand, making tourism impossible in that area.

Picture 2. Actual state of the beach and Casas de Babilonia. (Source: Author’s own creation)

At this point, the question many are asking is: why are not the houses demolished, if they do not currently comply with the Coastal Law? It seems logical to think that the solution for this beach goes through this measure. Of course, it would need others, such as artificial regeneration, as there is hardly any sand at present, as well as a modification of the breakwater to prevent the same situation once more. The problem lies in the administrative concession.

The administrative concession for these buildings allowed individuals to use them as housing until 2018, after which they had to be returned to the State. Six months before the concession expired in June 2018, the Residents’ Association requested an extension that has been denied. Costas Department has rejected the extension due to the damage suffered by the buildings after the marine storms and basing the decision on the fact that the current state of the buildings prevents the public enjoyment and the use of the beach in safety and healthy conditions for the common public, adversely affecting tourism and hence to the general interest.

In turn, the Residents’ Association defends that the bad situation of the beach is not caused by the presence of the houses, but because of the renovation of the breakwater that is almost 500 meters long and which was built without an Environmental Impact Declaration. That is why they have appealed the decision of Costas Department in the Audiencia Nacional.

The solution, therefore, does not seem as simple as might be expected, since different interests (of the State and of individuals) are involved and the entire judicial process delays the possible intervention that would help to recover the original state that the Babilonia beach presented a century ago.

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