Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Development Rush Goes Wrong

Saranda is a rather unlovely port and would-be holiday resort on the southern Albanian coast. No particular reason for talking about it now other than I happened to be there this time last week and it is one the most extraordinary examples of what happens when speculative building development goes out of control.

The Ionian Sea is arguably the most beautiful part of the Mediterranean and for most of the countries bordering it it has become a tourist money-spinner. Italy, Greece, and Croatia have dotted their coastlines with apartments and hotels. But there is a hundred mile stretch of almost pristine coastline – Albania. The poorest country in Europe with rudimentary infrastructure and until recently a highly isolationist government it has been a no-go for holidaymakers. But things are changing fast and Albania not unreasonably wants some of the action. Saranda is one of the few places on the coast with much infrastructure and developers have seen the opportunity. Concrete shells of apartment blocks, hotels and houses have spread out of the town along the coast. Chunks of hillside blasted out to make room for more and more. Occasionally there is a pile of rubble where the planning authorities have caught up with an illegal development and blown it up. The developers are not deterred and more and more buildings are being started in the belief that the tourists will come soon. But the tourists haven’t come. Much of the construction has been abandoned and Saranda now has an estimated 50% vacancy rate. I suspect it's rather less of a tourist draw than it was before the development rush started.

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