Unesco has threatened to strip Lanzarote of its prized biosphere status because of a rash of illegal building along its coast. The Canary Island Supreme Court has declared that 24 hotels have been illegally built in coastal resorts such as Playa Blanca. Eight of the hotels are landmark luxury properties like the Princesa Yaiza, which boasts a restaurant complex, spa and amusement park overlooking a crescent of golden sand. The hotels qualified for a total of �23.6m in EU grants, partly thanks to the biosphere status. The EU anti-corruption office has demanded the money be returned. The Princesa Yaiza says it holds valid operating permits, and that it is the victim of a local political row. "We are in touch with the Spanish authorities about the situation," Meriem Bouamrane of Unesco told the FT. "If the developments are not respecting local needs and are impacting on the environment, the title can be revoked." Of the 564 biosphere sites around the world, Lanzarote is the only entire island to win the prestigious classification. The Unesco website touts the island's ecological charms, including a profusion of unpronounceable species like "arthrocnemum fruticosum", and it praises the way "priority was given to blend tourist infrastructure with the beautiful but inhospitable environment". Thanks to a pioneering land-use plan, nearly half the island has been declared a nature reserve, the volcanic Timanfaya National Park, which is largely pristine except for a dizzying tour-bus route, camel rides and a sole restaurant where steaks are grilled over the lava-heated barbecue pit. Unesco credits the lobbying efforts of architect C�sar Manrique, whose sustainable style of development is visible in low-key tourist attractions like the Mirador del Rio, a caf� and viewpoint imbedded in lava rock, or the Jameos del Agua, another lava-scape, which doubles a concert hall. In fact, the C�sar Manrique Foundation, named after the late architect, blew the whistle on the illegal hotels. The foundation's mission is to fight the onslaught of concrete towers that has littered other islands and Spanish mainland coasts. Aquilino Migu�lez, coordinator for the Lanzarote government's Biosphere Reserve Observatory, believes Lanzarote deserves its biosphere status despite the building abuses. "It's true that corruption linked to development is a great problem on the island, but in many occasions, it has been we who have blown the whistle, and Unesco knows that," Mr Migu�lez told reporters. "What people don't seem to realise is that this reserve is a pioneer in Spain regarding the fight against illegal hotels and taking away the title would be somewhat unfair."


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