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Barcelona to protect 228 historical shops in order to save the city's identity

On Thursday, Barcelona's City Council announced the inclusion of 228 historical and iconic commercial establishments in the new catalogue for protection of the city's urban heritage. However, 161 of the 389 shops initially identified were left out. The aim is to prevent the shops from disappearing due to the pressure of the rental market and therefore being transformed into a multinational franchise. The new catalogue, which will have 3 levels of protection, is part of a special plan for the protection and promotion of urban quality, due to be approved before the end of 2015 (because of May's municipal elections). The plan also identifies a series of areas where limited interventions will be allowed in order to preserve the quality of the urban environment. Among them are Ciutat Vella, Eixample's central area, Sagrada Família and the historical centres of Gràcia, Sant Andreu, Poblenou and Poble-sec.

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12 March 2015 09:10 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- On Thursday, Barcelona's City Council announced the inclusion of 228 historical and iconic commercial establishments in the new catalogue for protection of the city's urban heritage. However, 161 of the 389 shops, bars and restaurants initially identified were left out. The aim is to prevent the shops from disappearing due to the pressure of the rental market and therefore being transformed into a multinational franchise. This phenomenon has happened in several downtown areas of large cities, such as London, where most of the commercial establishments are occupied by global brands and fast food restaurants. Barcelona's new catalogue, which will have 3 levels of protection, is part of a special plan for the protection and promotion of urban quality, due to be approved before the end of 2015 (because of May's municipal elections). The plan also identifies a series of areas where limited interventions will be allowed in order to preserve the quality of the urban environment. Among them are Ciutat Vella, Eixample's central area, Sagrada Família and the historical centres of Gràcia, Sant Andreu, Poblenou and Poble-sec.


The 228 historical commercial establishments included in the new catalogue will benefit from different levels of protection by the City Council. 32 shops will be granted the maximum level of protection for buildings of great historical interest, called E1, which guarantees the integral preservation of the majority of the assets in the exterior (façade) but also in the interior, such as furniture, fixed decorative features and main tools (such as old cash registers). For 152 establishments (the majority), an E2 type of protection will be given, providing for the partial conservation of singular decorative elements but which have lost their initial uniform consistency due to later interventions. Finally, in the remaining 42 cases, E3 type protection will be granted, which means protection only for those assets considered of interest from an architectonic-historical point of view, usually located on the outside of the shop (such as shop signs and doors).

On the other hand, 161 commercial establishments have been left out of the catalogue and will face the end of the temporary suspension of new commercial licences, which was granted by Barcelona's City Council in March 2014 to save these old shops while it was finalising a comprehensive plan to protect them. These one-year suspensions of new licences temporarily blocked any transformations or urban planning action on these iconic shops, ensuring that no permits for building work and or for opening new commercial activities were granted. According to the new classification, out of the 161 excluded, 130 of these buildings do not possess tangible elements of interest, around 15 are characterised by less than 50 years of activity and another 15 occupy buildings that are already protected, as they appear in previous protection plans.

Preserving the property and furniture, not a specific commercial activity

According to Barcelona’s City Councillor for Commerce, Raimond Blasi, "mediation played a key role in avoiding the shutdown of 40 iconic commercial establishments affected by the increase in rental prices after the end of the moratorium on the 1964 Urban Leasing Law (LAU). However, Blasi admitted that "five historical businesses were closed."

Preservation through the newly-presented catalogue refers only to a prohibition to alter the aesthetic configurations of the building and its fixed decorations and interior structures, especially with regard to the property and the furniture. However, it does not cover the type of (commercial) activity carried out hitherto.

"We could determine a set of potential commercial uses but not a particular one" said the manager for Barcelona City Council's Urban Habitat department, Albert Civit. However, "in exceptional cases" which would entail the preservation of a specific commercial activity, the City Council may request the Catalan Government to recognise a shop premises as a Cultural Asset of Local Interest. 

"We cannot protect 100% the commercial activity but we can make it difficult for other activities that do not harmonise with the identity of the street to come in," said Antoni Vives, Barcelona's Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat. With regard to the content of the property, "the conclusion is that the furniture and the property should go together" said Civit. Each of the 228 protected shop buildings will possess a technical sheet specifying everything hitherto that must be safeguarded and "in case something has to be moved, how it has to be moved" he added.

Under the moratorium on the LAU, the suspension of licences for the 228 shop buildings of the catalogue denies the possibility of carrying out any work or changing the type of commercial activity in place. However, during last year, some exceptions were made, based on a case-by-case assessment. For example, Joan Prat gallery in Rambla de Catalunya was converted into a cloths shop without any of its protected elements being touched.

With the approval of the Special Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Urban Quality, the suspension of the licenses will be lifted. According to Vives, this will happen "at the end of this year" but other municipal sources believe a 2-year timeframe to be more realistic. Soon, the plan will be put to public discussion for two months. "It is not closed yet, we have to listen to what everyone has to say," Vives added. 

Preserving Barcelona's streets' originality from a heritage-architectonic perspective 

The 'Special Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Urban Quality' also identifies a number of areas where structural and landscape interventions will be limited with the aim of preserving public space and the urban environment. "The main goal of the plan", said Vives, is "to avoid the excessive transformation of streets around a theme." The Deputy Mayor added: "the biggest problem for a city like Barcelona, a commercially attractive city, a powerful city in terms of attracting all sorts of brands, is having our streets transformed into a theme park". "And this thematic transformation happens by eliminating 5 or 6 ground-floor shops and erecting a franchise shop sign instead", he stressed. "Then this street no longer has the originality that it used to have, from a heritage-architectonic perspective. And the presence of such signs make the street no longer be this or that street but it becomes the street where there this or that is; and this is what we want to avoid by all means", he concluded.

The Plan will cover the following areas: Ciutat Vella, Eixample's central area, Sagrada Família and the historical centres of Gràcia, Sant Andreu, Poblenou and Poble-sec. In these areas, it will not be permitted to add additional space from adjacent land to ground-floor shops, although it will be allowed to add rooms without distorting the original shape of the building in which the property is located. The plan aims at preserving the peculiar morphology generated by having different facades even though they have the same use and conserving the harmony between the ground floor and the whole building.

Moreover, the use of the buildings for non-residential purposes will be limited to a maximum of 60% for each floor and pedestrians' use of the public street will be encouraged. With regard to the Eixample, the use of buildings for residential purposes will be limited to a maximum of 50% on the ground floor facing the street where they are located. Moreover, if the building possesses a façade of more than 30 metres, it will be recommended that the ground floor be designated for economic activities open to the public.

For the entire city of Barcelona, the plan includes urban and landscape measures such as, for example: a limit on the use of screens in shop signs and on the changing of shop names; the obligation of using indirect lighting in order to avoid light pollution; and the prohibition of posters on the buildings.

Spain’s Urban Leasing Law (LAU) and the 2014 moratorium

Spain’s Urban Leasing Law (LAU) which provided for the adoption of rent control came into force in 1964, during the Franco dictatorship. In 1994, this law was revised to ensure that rents would eventually adjust to the market, giving property and shop owners 20 years to agree on new terms.

In 2014, Barcelona City Council approved a one-year-moratorium on the 1964 Urban Leasing Law (LAU), and the protection of 389 city shops as part of the Specific Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Emblematic Establishments. This one-year permit suspension blocked any transformations or urban planning actions on these iconic shops, where no permits for building work or for opening new commercial activities were granted.  This temporary suspension was to come to an end this month and the City Council is now launching this plan that should ensure the protection of the most important of the commercial establishments.

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  • Subirà's candle shop in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (by B. Fuentes)

  • Subirà's candle shop in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (by B. Fuentes)
Barcelona to protect 228 historical shops in order to save the city's identity