Guillermo Valcárcel: “In Spain greed drags us”
Survive to tell it. Guillermo Valcárcel knows as few the world of brick: He spent ten years between works, first in the private company and, finally, as inspector of urbanism of the City of Madrid. They were the happy years of the pitch , of “Spain is doing well” or “We are going to beat Germany”. The technical architect – now a publicity director – jumped out of the ship in 2008, disgusted by so much stress, but had plenty of time to witness the urban blunders, the enormous power of the promoters over the town halls, the rampant corruption … He collects everything in The wave that swept Spain (ed. RBA), a book in which he alternates the historical review of how the collapse of the main sector of the Spanish economy with personal experiences and anecdotes was reached. Bittersweet memories of a world “on the verge of disappearing”.
In the book explains that the real business of the construction industry was not so much the houses as the ground.
Yes, during the brick boom the houses doubled their price, but the land increased fivefold. Soils are divided into two types, to simplify it a lot: rural land and urban land, which is where we build houses. The difference between the price of one and another is multiplied by a thousand. In the book I give an example of how with an investment of 100,000 euros you can get up to 90 million. There is nothing in the world that can match that benefit. The business consisted in making us a rural land that we knew was going to become urban. In theory, that an Urban Plan passes through one of your lands is somewhat casual, as if you had touched the lottery. But in reality it’s the other way around, you cause me to go to the place where you have land. The great movement of briefcases and money occurred here. In fact, the larger promoters made homes simply by advertising. I have been with promoters who have assured me that they were in construction because they had to face it, but that was not really their business. On the ground is where the municipalities took their spurious benefit, not in the licenses, which is the easiest to detect. Possibly, this is where most of the corruption was, which has not been detected because there is no way to locate these movements.
You affirm that influence peddling in the management of Urban Planning of the town halls has been generalized.
Without a doubt. If we look at provincial capitals, towns … We will see that there has always been a promoter or construction company that has grown explosively at the same time as the city was developing. Do not tie many ends. Companies that started with 10 million budget and at five years had 10 billion. Wow! I’ve seen it in Guadalajara, Valladolid, Burgos … If a promoter wanted to buy a plot to start building, the town hall told them to talk to the promoter who owned that area. The provincial capitals were fiefs in which the town councils were captives. You arrived in Guadalajara and Rayet and Arcesa were the promoters, owners and ladies. If you wanted to build, you bought the plot from them.
When talking about provoking refers to putting briefcases on the table?
Of course, I can not think of another way. When a city council creates an Urban Plan, it has an asset that will move hundreds of millions of euros. It can happen that he executes it without being pressured, without anyone thinking: “If I’m going to get 100 million profit, why do not I give this guy a million?” But let’s not be innocent. Theoretically cities grow where technicians say, but generally a city has so much space around it that in the end there will always be a subjective element. The amount of money that moves is very beast, and is left in the hands of the weakest link in the state, the municipalities.
You get to compare the valuation of a land with the speculation in stock market.
If I have land on which houses are going to be built in ten years and I calculate that then its value will be X, I can multiply the value of the land. As happened in the crack of 29 and as it has happened now, everything that is done in anticipation of the future is calculated as something linear, without taking into account that unforeseen events may occur. In the end everything becomes pure speculation.
The brick boom has left many people on the road. But who are the true beneficiaries of this disaster? Are there names and surnames?
The first is banking, which flooded the market with credit. When one buys a land, it assumes a risk, but the bank never loses because it does not acquire the land, it gives you the credit for you to do it, and whatever happens you have to return it. The example is clear: The savings banks that did get into debt with the construction fell, the big banks that were only lending money there they are. To know who was covered it would be enough to know who the owners of the land were of all the urban plans that were started. The construction companies that set up their promoters to sell large plots of land are still in the same position as in 2007 in the ranking of major construction companies in the world this year. FCC, ACS, Dragados, Acciona, Ferrovial … In 2007 both they and the banks sold their promoters at the maximum value. Who bought them? The promoters of always, that thought that they were going to be lined, but to the six months they were not worth anything.
Is not that a scam?
No, it’s playing. The problem is that you play with perspectives to ten years, and you can go right or wrong. They thought that the value of housing was always going to rise.
But if they all casually sold in 2007 … Maybe they had information that others did not have.
Clear. There is the play. The bank and the big construction companies came out clapping and continue giving them, delighted to have met. What did they know? We will never know. What did they do to the promotoras? Without a doubt. All those who bought real estate in 2007 are now looking in the trash.
The book, apart from being informative, also seems a tribute to all those construction workers who today must be having a hard time.
It is a complete tribute to what I lived for ten years. During that time I met some of those people who moved land, which for me is not the real world, and I met a real world that is also the rural Spain, our grandparents, which is still maintained in the world of building. A very hard Spain to which he was not used, very hard in many aspects but very vital in others. Actually the book started there, for remembering that world and those people so strange and so funny that is about to disappear.
Why did you leave the construction?
For personal reasons My vocation was the cinema, and while I was working I started to study it at night. Between 2006 and 2007 all of us who worked in the sector had gone through a time of great stress, we were exhausted. People lost kilos, divorced … I decided that I had seen everything I had to see. But we did not see the blow that was approaching.
Did not they see it?
We all knew that a crisis was coming. But everything was so inflated that we thought the crisis would be good because it was going to clean the sector. No one ever imagined that activity in construction would fall by 90%.
Do you think we have learned the lesson or will we return to an economic model based on construction?
We have not learned anything, and the best example is Eurovegas. But it is not only the model of construction, it is that of easy money. If the bank arrives tomorrow and says it gives you credit to buy stamps because it is where the future is, all of Spain would be filled with stamps until it burst! That is the problem: we sold ourselves, until the last. We are dragged by greed. You stand for a while but you end up falling, and it’s sad. I would like to think that we learn, but I do not have anything clear. The crisis of 1929 is nailed to what we have now a century later.
There are few alternatives in a country with hardly any industry and where the main companies are still those of construction.
The terrible thing is that industry and agriculture fell at the same time that construction was growing. But in this country it is difficult for people to understand that it is better to invest in sectors of long-term growth but that they provide stability and growth instead of an explosion of bills, a blow. In addition, just as everyone thought that the crisis was going to hit another, everyone wanted to get their pinch. Like the people who sold the apartment before writing it. People think that they did not provoke anything, that they only tried to benefit as others have done before. That is the thought that leads us to everything else.