Updated: Oct 11, 2020
In a Zaragoza City council meeting before the end of September a modification to the Local Development Plan was approved to allow the conversion of empty commercial premises into residential property, parking garages, bike parking areas, neighbourhood cultural spaces or distribution warehouses.
Victor Serrano, councillor with the Urban development portfolio proposed the policy explaining that, according to the Federation of Businessmen and Commerce Services (FCOS), there were more than 1,400 empty properties across the city in 2018, which, undoubtedly would be a considerably larger number in the current circumstances.
The plan is to focus on premises that have stood empty for more than three years, enabling neighbourhoods to revitalise the area with new housing or economic opportunities. The policy includes the criteria that the minimum floor space for a residential property to increase from 37.5 metres squared to 45. Serrano insisted the plan was not an intention for the Council to purchase property. It was also specified that the proposal would not cover main or commercial streets. It has been made clear that such options cannot work in areas saturated with night life venues.
Despite unanimous voting in favour of the measure at the Council Plenary session, the political opposition have ben quick to point out concerns.
Horacio Royo, Socialist Group, insisted there was a requirement for "deeper intervention" and that this alteration is not the solution to the problem of empty premises in the city. It was unclear what the alternative proposal would look like.
Podemos-Equo spokesman Fernando Rivarés called for complementary measures to support urban planning to encourage commerce, innovation and culture.
Former Mayor, Pedro Santisteve, of the Zaragoza en Común political alliance (ZeC), welcomed the measures that bring some legal certainty and hoped it would unleash a wave of daring housing solutions.
Julio Calvo of Vox expressed concern that neighbourhoods such as Delicias, that suffer from a large number of empty commercial premises, may face a lack of investment in services if housing numbers increase.
The exact details of how the plan is to be enacted is unclear. With the Council rejecting suggestions of council purchase it seems it will encourage the change of licences for property use. It seems many have focused on the headline idea of creating new housing stock, but warehousing and car parks have also been mooted. This is an idea that seems to have come en vogue this year as cities across Europe and beyond are contemplating such a reaction to the commercial decline resulting from COVID lockdowns. Such high density urban centre residential development converted from former commercial zones is a part of the UN sustainable development goals programme. It remains to be seen what jobs and facilities will be generated to provide support and employment for new housing and whether converting spaces to parking when the policy drive is to reduce private car use in city centres are recipes for any kind of success, especially when the details of what such a plan will be remain unclear.