A couple have told how their retirement home by the Mediterranean has been taken over by the Spanish government.

Cliff and Marie Carter moved from Pickering, North Yorkshire, in 2003 after Mrs Carter inherited a chalet on the coast at El Saler, near Valencia, from her parents.

But the Spanish authorities have now assumed ownership of the building, which is in an "ubanisation" or complex, because it is deemed to breach a law protecting the coast.

The government has started enforcing the 1988 Ley de Costas, or Coastal Law, to tackle problems including coastal erosion.

Property deemed to be too near the sea is being taken over and, in some cases, demolished.

In January, a Berkshire couple's retirement villa near Alemeria was razed and thousands of others are under threat of being bulldozed.

Mr Carter, 59, a former electronics engineer, said the chalet would be worth about £400,000.

"We can't sell it because it doesn't belong to us anymore. They have taken ownership, but have given us permission to continue living in it," he said.

"You think you are covered for your retirement years and that if anything happens and you need to go into a home you can sell the house. But they have taken it away.

"If they decide to knock it down they only have to give you the cost of the build, not the cost of the land."

Mr Carter said the chalet and the others in the complex had been declared to be in the "public domain", an area which could stretch several hundred yards from the beach.

He said the property had been built legally in 1970, with appropriate permissions from the local authorities.

He has joined an association set up to fight the government in the courts but said the Coastal Law formed part of the country's constitution, which could not be challenged.

North-East Conservative Euro-MP Martin Callanan said: "The laws have been in place for 20 years but were poorly enforced by local authorities, which turned a blind eye as developers constructed properties illegally.

"As a result, the current crackdown has led to thousands of property owners having demolition orders served on them or being prevented from passing on their property to children.

"There is also concern that the Spanish government is trying to make the coastal protection laws retroactive, which would mean that even homes built before the laws would be affected."