The leader of an association representing owners of illegal homes in Andalucia was presented today with an Honorary MBE.

Maura Hillen, President of AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No – No to Urban Planning Abuse in Almanzora) and a local councillor for Albox, was appointed as an honorary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), for services to the British community in Spain, by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II earlier this year.

The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, presented her with the badge of the Order on behalf of The Queen.  The medal presentation ceremony was held at Hospederia Virgen del Saliente in Albox, Almeria and attended by 40 of Maura’s friends, family and local partners, including the Mayors of Albox and Alcaucin.

The award to Mrs Hillen, an Irish national, reflects her work as President and spokesperson of AUAN, an organisation established to campaign for the legalisation of homes in the Almanzora Valley, where thousands of properties – mostly British owned – have lacked a final habitation certificate since they were built some 10 to 15 years ago.  The group now also campaigns on behalf of property owners across Andalucia.

AUAN’s lobbying of the Spanish authorities, under Maura’s leadership, led to a change in the Criminal Code in Spain in March 2015.  This change ensured the rights of property owners, who had purchased properties in good faith but subsequently found them to be classified as illegal builds, would now be taken into account in any legal ruling over the fate of these properties, with compensation to be paid to them in advance of any demolition order being carried out.  This represented a significant shift in the focus of the legal system and a huge achievement on the part of AUAN and Maura herself.

The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, said:

“Maura has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of property owners who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a nightmare of legal problems, often facing imminent demolition, homelessness and financial ruin.

“Furthermore, Maura has been an exemplary ambassador; showing how expats resident in Spain can and do integrate successfully – giving something back and contributing to their local communities.

“It is this energy and sense of purpose and commitment in helping the community to have a healthy, happy, secure, life here in Spain that we are here to recognise, and celebrate, today.”

Maura Hillen MBE, president of AUAN, said:

“I am honoured to accept this award, which I share unreservedly with the members of AUAN.  Any advance in the protection of the rights of homeowners is not the work of an individual but the result of teamwork, dialogue and collaboration.  In turn we owe a debt of gratitude for the support of likeminded associations such as AUN (Valencia), SOHA (Malaga) and AMA (Cantabria); also to the members of Parliament and of the Senate of Spain who listened to our proposals and took action. “