Costa del Sol News - 3rd January 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week 3rd January - 9th January 2008


Young Caleta de Velez residents Toni and Penny Rawlins couldn't believe their luck when they saw the hail on the road outside their house on Christmas Eve. Their neighbour, CDSN reader Philip Bentley, took this picture of the girls on their sledge enjoying an extremely unusual 'white Christmas'. If you have a newsworthy photo you'd like published in the Costa del Sol News, please call us on 95 244 8730.


More than half of principal Andalucian housing markets dip

By Oliver McIntyre

THE PRICE of second-hand homes dropped in the fourth quarter of 2007 in more than half of the principal Andalucian property markets analysed by the real estate website Marking the end of a decade-long countrywide real estate boom, prices also dropped in Barcelona and Madrid, the first downward tick in house prices in Spain’s two biggest cities since began its quarterly study in 2000.

The Costa del Sol was no exception to the falloff in prices. Of the nine Costa municipalities included in the study, six showed price drops in the fourth quarter. These included some of the biggest drops in the study, such as a 7.8 per cent dive in Mijas Costa, a 2.7 per cent decrease in Fuengirola and a drop of 2.2 per cent in Torremolinos. Other towns showed more modest decreases, including Benalmádena, down 0.9 per cent, and Marbella and Málaga, both down 0.1 per cent.

Prices rise in two local towns
Of the Costa del Sol towns in the study, only two showed price increases, Rincón de la Victoria, up 4.0 per cent, and Estepona, up 2.4 per cent. One town, Torrox Costa, was included in the study for the first time and thus had no comparative data to indicate whether prices had gone up or down since the previous quarter.

Other Andalucía municipalities showing price drops included the city of Granada, down 2.5 per cent; the Cádiz towns of Algeciras (-2.1 per cent), Jerez de la Frontera (-1.5 per cent) and Rota (-2.1 per cent); and Isla Cristina on the Huelva coast (-2.8 per cent). Some provincial capitals saw increases, including Sevilla, up 2.2 per cent, Almería (0.7 per cent) and Córdoba (0.6 per cent), while comparative data was not available for Cádiz, Huelva or Jaén.

Only fourth quarter price changes
For all of the Andalucía towns, the data reflects only price changes for the fourth quarter, not year-on-year figures, because the region has only been included in the study since the second quarter of 2007. Barcelona and Madrid, which have been included since 2000, showed year-on-year price drops of 2.0 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.


Home robbery wave in Guadalhorce Valley

Thieves move inland as police tighten control on Costa

NEWS Staff Reporter

Police and local town hall officials have confirmed that the Guadalhorce Valley has been experiencing a wave of home robberies as stepped-up patrolling on the Costa forces organised crime gangs to seek easier target areas.

Recent months have seen an increase in break-in robberies in Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Coín and Cártama, especially in outlying urbanisation and rural zones. Alhaurín el Grande and Coín have each seen 25 to 30 robberies in the last two months. In two of the Alhaurín el Grande robberies the thieves made scores of more than 60,000 euros in cash. In another, the robbed house belonged to a local police officer and one of the items stolen was a police uniform, which was abandoned on the ground nearby as the thieves fled.
In outlying areas of Alhaurín de la Torre, there have been cases of a single home being hit has many as three times.

Officials attribute the bulk of the robberies to organised Eastern European crime gangs. The robberies typically occur during evening hours when nobody is inside the house, but there have also been cases of break-ins while the owners were at home. The thieves mainly target quick, easy bounty such as cash and jewellery, say officials.

‘Balloon effect’
As police forces intensify patrolling in the Guadahorce Valley in response to the robbery wave, it is likely the criminal gangs will once again move on to new, easier hunting grounds. It is a phenomenon known in law enforcement jargon as the ‘balloon effect’, referring to the fact that when you squeeze a balloon one place, it bulges out somewhere else.

Court denies King's appeal in Wanninkhof case

NEWS Staff Reporter

Tony Alexander King’s appeal against his conviction for the 1999 murder of Rocío Wanninkhof has been denied by Spain’s Supreme Court. The case went to the Supreme Court after the initial appeal was denied by the Regional Supreme Court. King was convicted of the crime in December 2006 and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s findings that King, on the night of October 9, 1999, accosted the 19-year-old Mijas girl as she was walking down a road in La Cala, and when she resisted, hit her and stabbed her repeatedly with a knife.

In addition to the 19-year sentence for the Rocío Wanninkhof murder, King is currently serving 36 years for the 2003 murder of 17-year-old Sonia Carabantes in Coín, and an additional seven years for an attempted rape in Benalmádena in 2001. The Supreme Court previously upheld his conviction for the Sonia Carabantes murder.

Heavy seas break New Flame in two

Andalucía seeks compensation for oil pollution on Algeciras beaches

By David Eade

and heavy seas over the Christmas period caused the beached merchant vessel New Flame to break in two off Gibraltar’s Europa Point. Within days 144 tonnes of oil was washed up on the beaches of Algeciras.
Gibraltar has denied the oil came from the New Flame claiming that its fuel was taken off as part of the initial rescue operation and the tanks were then sealed. However the Andalucian regional government is seeking compensation from Gibraltar for the damage caused by fuel oil that it says came from the New Flame.

Despite the Gibraltar government’s initial denial it has since conceded that the oil could be from the vessel. Peter Caruana’s government insists that the issue is a legal one and has asked for samples for analysis, possibly to reinforce the view in government circles that the fuel is not from the stricken vessel. Nonetheless the Gibraltar government has made clear that it respects the international legal position that the polluter pays.

Last Thursday Gibraltar’s chief minister Peter Caruana met with Spain’s foreign secretary, Bernardino Leon, to plan the next round of talks under the tripartite process. The New Flame made it onto the agenda over lunch in Mijas with Mr Caruana assuring Sr Leon that his country was being kept fully informed.

Regional government prepares legal team
Cleanup teams working on the Algeciras beaches have recovered around 150 tonnes of oil and waste over the past week. This has lead to strong criticism by environmental groups and politicians. Gaspar Zarrias, the regional government’s senior spokesperson stated: “We have asked our legal team to prepare the necessary reports to claim damages from the Gibraltar government.” He said of Gibraltar: “They neither fix the problem, nor do they let us fix it.”

Hail storms wipes out Axarquía winter crops

By Dave Jamieson

storm which hit parts of the Axarquía on Christmas Eve caused damage running into millions of euros. In the town of Algarrobo alone, estimates put the cost at nine million euros.

The figures came last week from agriculture councillor Antonio Cordón who said the first studies did not include damage caused to country roads. 515,000 square metres of open-air crops were lashed by the hail, 102,000 square metres of greenhoused crops were destroyed and a further 64,000 square metres were damaged.

The agricultural association Jovenes Agricultores, Asaja, said the storm hit outside crops badly, with 90 per cent of potatoes, beans, artichokes, mangos and avocados lost in some places. An estimated 75 per cent of fruits like tomatoes being grown under plastic were also lost when the weight of the hail collapsed the protective coverings. Asaja’s secretary general, Carlos Blázquez, said that potatoes are the predominant crop in the worst hit area, and that practically none remained. He described the event as a “disaster” with around 50 growers having lost all their crops.

On Boxing Day, Algarrobo town council opened special offices for those affected with 35 reports of damage formally recorded within the first day, while a meeting was due to be held in the town last night between farmers, agricultural groups and councillors to discuss the problem. Technicians from the Junta’s Department of Agriculture were also expected to visit Vélez-Málaga, Caleta and Algarrobo this week to see the damage for themselves to help in assessing the full impact of the hail.

Alhaurín prison goes high-tech for remote holiday

Inmates can videoconference with faraway family members

By Oliver McIntyre

A new videoconferencing system at the Alhaurín de la Torre prison is making possible some holiday visits that would otherwise be unfeasible for inmates with families who live far away.

Under the programme, the prison is connected to the country’s 53 other penitentiaries via a videoconferencing network, meaning family members who live in other parts of the country can go to the prison closest to them and have a videoconference visit with the inmate at Alhaurín. Or conversely, Málaga residents who have a family member imprisoned somewhere outside the province can go to the Alhaurín prison to videoconference with the inmate at his or her prison. The system cannot be accessed from the outside, so the only way to do a videoconference visit is by going to one of the prisons.

In Alhaurín, the videoconference room has been set up in small, soundproofed room near the prison watchtower, next to the visitation booths where inmates meet with their lawyers. It is outfitted with a video camera, a monitor and 10 chairs to accommodate families who come to visit with an inmate at another prison.

In at least one case, the system allowed an inmate-to-inmate visit. A female prisoner at Alhaurín had a holiday videoconference with her husband, who is serving time at another prison outside the province.

Trial run
Prison officials say that for now the scheme is just for the holidays, running from December 22 to January 6. After that, the prisons will submit assessment forms to the Department of Penitentiaries, which will decide on the future use of the system.

Passengers refunded after AVE trains delayed

The technical glitch mars much-touted launch of high-speed train line

By Dave Jamieson

Hundreds of passengers are having their ticket costs refunded after serious delays to four of the new AVE trains from Málaga to Madrid. The problems were caused by failures of onboard computer systems, which are now being reviewed.
Renfe says that any delay of more than 15 minutes on the Málaga-Madrid line will result in a refund of 50 per cent of the fare, rising to a complete refund for delays of more than 30 minutes. Last Wednesday one train out of Málaga arrived in Madrid 40 minutes late and another arrived 45 minutes late. On Friday two more trains were late, one arriving with a delay of 26 minutes and the other delayed by 32 minutes.

Affected travellers should present their tickets at the customer service office in the María Zambrano station, where cash payments will be refunded immediately while credit card repayments will be effected within 20 days, says Renfe.
The railway company said the problems were due to failures in the computer system used to read the electronic signals on the line. As a result, the built-in safety measures brought the locomotives to a complete halt until the computer system could be restarted.

Renfe’s director general for AVE long-distance travel, Abelardo Carrillo, said that such problems were “reasonable” because the new line was in its “initial phase,” although he did not indicate how long the phase was expected to last. The development minister, Magdalena Álvarez, said that, given the complexity of the new infrastructure, the failures were “not relevant.” However, she added that the IT manufacturer Siemens would be updating software in the problematic computer units to ensure that the electronic signals are properly read, although this could take until mid-January to complete.

On Christmas Eve, Renfe was also obliged to refund ticket money to delayed passengers on one service of the Madrid to Valladolid AVE line, which opened the day before the Málaga line.

Political fallout
The Partido Popular (PP) has criticised the ruling socialist PSOE party over the incidents, with a PP representative, Andrés Ayala, accusing the government of rushing the the new AVE lines into service “exclusively” in the interests of the coming general election.

Nerja calls for action in breakwater project

Government announced project in May 2006 but nothing has happened since

By Dave Jamieson

councillor for beaches has called for a project to build a breakwater off the coast to be speeded up. Jonathan Méndez says that he has appealed to the good relationship which the town enjoys with the province’s Costas department in an effort to get the work brought forward.

His comments relate to Playa Torrecilla where plans to build protective underwater reefs appear to have stalled. In May 2006, a project to redevelop the beach appeared in the Official State Bulletin and gave details of two artificial barriers to be installed off the coast to stabilise the beach and prevent the movement of sand. It indicated that one would be placed off the Los Cangrejos cliffs, immediately east of the beach, and the second off Torrecilla Point, home to a 16th century outlook tower. At that time, a budget of 90,000 euros was allocated for technical assistance to develop the project, but since then the town hall has heard nothing.

Sand loss and infrastructure damage
Torrecilla is the Nerja beach which is most susceptible to damage by the weather. Along its length, sand loss and infrastructure damage inevitably follow periods of high winds and heavy seas.

Landslip mars opening day of new coastal autovía

Clean-up and repair work could take two months

By Dave Jamieson

A landslip meant that the inauguration of a new stretch of motorway along Spain’s southern coast did not go entirely according to plan on Boxing Day. Despite the setback, the 10.5-kilometre length of autovía was formally opened on schedule by the Development Minister, Magdalena Álvarez.

The rocks and rubble piled up on the new road following heavy rains before Christmas and mean that traffic is having to share one carriageway for a distance of two and a half kilometres while the clear-up operation continues. It is reported that this could take as long as two months, as work will include reinforcing the roadside cliffs to prevent a recurrence.

Work on the stretch between Albuñol in Granada province and Adra in Almería began in 2002 but has taken two years longer than expected to complete. In her opening speech, Sra Álvarez said that this length of the A-7 had become one of Spain’s most expensive roads to build. At 11 million euros per kilometre, it has been two and a half times more times more costly than the average of 4.5 million euros, due largely to the numerous tunnels and viaducts. The Huarea viaduct, for example, is 306 metres long and carries traffic more than 90 metres above the ground, while La Alcazaba viaduct is 225 metres in length and 65 metres high.

More to come
The new road takes about 15 minutes off the road journey between Málaga and Almería and is the third of seven stretches of motorway to open along the 84.8 kilometres between Nerja and Adra. The Minister said work on the remainder of the autovía was about 50 per cent complete and it was likely to open fully by the end of 2009.

Mayor accuses Junta of partisan politics

Fernandez says development projects worth millions have been blocked

By Oliver McIntyre

of Torremolinos, Pedro Fernández Montes (Partido Popular), has publicly accused the socialist PSOE-led Junta de Andalucía of partisan politics in its blocking of several important projects in the town.

In a television interview on the local station Torremolinos TV, the mayor said the regional government has put the brakes on local development projects and wants to prohibit any residential construction north of the motorway, despite it being allowed in other towns more politically aligned with the Junta.

“The town of Torremolinos will not permit the Junta de Andalucía to impose zero growth,” said the mayor in the interview with Torremolinos TV’s director, Enrique Lipiani, and a panel of journalists.

Subsidised housing affected
Among the projects that the mayor accuses the Junta of blocking are the construction of 260 subsidised housing (VPO) units in the El Pozuelo zone and a 1,374-home development, including a further 425 VPO homes, in the La Leala zone. Also paralysed by bureaucratic red tape are plans for a huge shopping centre and five-star hotel near the Palacio de Congresos conference centre, a project that would mean a 200 million-euro investment in the town and the creation of some 2,000 local jobs, said the mayor.

In the interview, which came as political mudslinging picks up steam in the run-up to general and regional elections in March, the mayor accused the Junta of “undignified politics” and of “not governing for all Andalucíans,” instead favouring some municipalities over others “based on the political colour of their town halls.”

Wet Christmas brings little relief

Rain boosts reservoir levels but drought still on

By David Eade

rains that hit the Costa del Sol over the Christmas period have boosted the levels of water in the province’s reservoirs. Estepona bore the brunt of the flooding with the A-7 cut to traffic and the urbanisations of Bellavista, Andalucía, Los Pinos, Puerto Paraíso, Reserva de Atalaya and Costalita badly hit. The fire brigade received 12 emergency calls in Marbella with other call outs in Manilva, Alhaurín de la Torre, Torremolinos and Málaga city.

Despite the wide-spread chaos and the reservoirs receiving some 12 cubic hectometres of water they are still at a lower level than this time last year. The increase in reserves is the equivalent of supply for Málaga capital of two months. For the western Costa del Sol the rainfall will meet its needs for just a month and a half.

The recent average level within the reservoirs in Málaga province is just 24 per cent of their capacity. Of the 17 reservoirs and dams in the province, Málaga capital’s El Atabal has 113 cubic hectometres compared with 213 last year, La Concepción in Marbella has 259 cubic hectometres compared with 296, the Presa Conde Guadalhorce in Ardales has 129 cubic hectometres as opposed to 151 and the other 14 fare no better.

The regional government’s ministry of the environment has stressed that the situation in Málaga province is still very delicate. Not only are levels down on the same period of 2006 but equally worrying is the fact that rainfall since October has also been less than in the previous year. The chronic drought is therefore still very much with us.

Agreement on professional card for construction

Plan aimed at improving safety and working conditions

By Dave Jamieson

Another step has been taken to improve conditions for employees in the region’s construction industry. Last Wednesday the Junta de Andalucía’s Department of Employment signed agreements with trades unions and sector representatives for the implementation of card to be held by all workers confirming their training and experience.

The Tarjeta Profesional de la Construcción (TPC) will become obligatory on January 1, 2012, and each worker’s card will hold a range of personal details. Amongst these will be the training received in preventing workplace accidents, the professional category of the cardholder, and his or her employment history in that category. The cost of introducing the pioneering scheme, estimated at five million euros up to 2011, will be met by the Junta de Andalucía.

Training required
The card will have be obligatory for all construction industry workers in Andalucía before they can be employed and will only be issued to those who have undergone a training course of at least 10 hours. Works inspectors will be able to sanction any worker who does not hold the new card.

The Employment Department says the initiative will help to improve the safety record of a sector that employs around 500,000 workers. The construction industry accounts for a third of all workplace accidents in Andalucía.

Bus strike threat every Friday in January

Drivers want better security and a two-point salary rise

By David Eade

province faces wide-spread travel disruption after workers for the Comes bus company pledged that they would carry out strike action every Friday in January unless an agreement was reached.

The workers are awaiting a meeting with the management of the company that runs services throughout much of Cádiz as well as inter-provincial routes. These latter networks include long distance buses to Valencia, Jaén, Almería and Granada as well as others to Málaga and Sevilla.

Although workers say the key issue is not pay related but is centred on “better security” - At present the drivers work a 12-hour day or longer and the employees insist this puts both drivers and passengers at risk - They also want their salaries to rise two points over the inflation rate to bring it in line with the 1992 levels as they claim it has been reduced over the years.

Strikes will take place between 6.30 and 9.30 and then 18.00 and 21.00. Similar action also took place in support of the workers’ claims, in December.