Costa del Sol News - 21st February 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week 21st February - 28th Feburary 2008

FIREMAN FOR A DAY

Torremolinos Fire Department are offering the young and young at heart a chance to not only see the fire crew in action but also to participate in a variety of hands-on activities at two open house events at the beginning of March. The child-friendly events promise to be great fun for all the family.


BRITS GET MYSTERY LETTER

Viñuela homeowners under threat receive unwelcome mail

By Dave Jamieson

CONFUSION surrounds a series of letters received by a number of residents in La Viñuela which ask for cash to legalise their properties. They were received last week and appear to come from the town hall, but the mayor has called them a “fraud”.

Around 50 residents in the municipality, all believed to be British, are reported to have received the letters which invite them to pay “voluntarily and freely, as compensatory payment” sums ranging between six and 12,000 euros. The letters, with an apparently official town hall stamp but no signature, were immediately denounced by opposition councillors. Last Thursday, La Viñuela’s mayor, Juan Millán of the PSOE, denied having sent the letters to owners of properties which the regional government says were built illegally. He said that, in the present confusion, someone had “taken advantage” of the property owners who earlier had been advised by the Junta that construction licences issued by the town hall as long ago as ten years were illegal and would be revoked (CDSN last week).

The local opposition party, the Partido Popular, has called for town planning responsibility to be taken away from Mayor Millán, while the Junta de Andalucía has announced an investigation into the letters which they described as “unheard of”.

New pressure group formed
Members of the newly formed pressure group, Save Our Homes Axarquía (SOHA) were as mystified as everyone else. Gary Miles told CDSN that SOHA’s members had no idea where the whole thing started, although some had paid a voluntary tax of 6,000 euros on the advice of lawyers or agents. Neither he nor his neighbours had received one of the mystery missives. News of SOHA’s work to fight the threat of licence revocation is now on-line at www.soha.es.
Meanwhile, the helicopter seen around the area of La Viñuela on Wednesday morning last week has been confirmed as carrying a representative of the Environment Department searching for illegal houses and buildings under construction. A member of the Guardia Civil’s environmental arm, Seprona, was also on board and the pioneering flight is believed to be the first time that government and Guardía representatives have co-operated in this way. It is reported that during the operation they took more than 200 photographs and various videos of building work which could lead to denuncias. Seprona is particularly worried that illegal building in forested areas could pose a fire risk.


Woman loses custody of son

Judge found mother guilty of brainwashing child against his father

By Oliver McIntyre

A TORREMOLINOS court has ordered a mother to turn over custody of her 14-year-old son to his father, who filed for custody claiming the woman had turned the boy against him following their separation in 2003, when the boy was nine years old.

The judge also ordered the woman to move out of the family home – which she had stayed in with the son after the separation – and ruled that she has no visitation rights and must pay the father 240 euros a month in child support.

Parental alienation syndrome
The judge found that the mother had essentially brainwashed her son into disliking and refusing to see his father, a phenomenon known as parental alienation syndrome (PAS) that arises primarily in custody disputes. PAS is understood to be the combination of such parental indoctrination and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent, according to forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard A. Gardner, who identified the syndrome in the 1980s.

According to the judge in the Torremolinos case, “experts agree that a court-ordered change of custody is the only solution for the syndrome.” In his ruling, he urged the father to get the son psychiatric help, “even, if necessary, putting him in a treatment centre for a process similar to that used to deprogramme a member of a cult.”


Beached in BenalmÁdena

By Suzan Davenport

A YOUNG sperm whale was washed up dead on Torremuelle beach on Saturday with its tail missing and trapped in a fishing net.

Officials at the government’s Environment Department office in Málaga said the Cachalote, as it is known locally, had evidently been ill as it was underweight, and had probably lost its tail in an accident before becoming trapped in the legally-placed net. The full results of the autopsy were not available at press time. The photo was sent in by CDSN reader, James Thomson.

If you have a newsworthy photo you’d like published in the Costa del Sol News, please send in high resolution jpeg format to editorial@csnews.es together with your name and contact telephone number.


Timeshare fraudsters face 84 years in jail

By David Eade

The anti-corruption prosecutor is seeking jail terms of 84 years and six months for those involved in a timeshare fraud centred on Fuengirola. In addition those accused also face multiple fines if convicted.

The scam, which is estimated to have defrauded the public of at least 8.6 million euros, was unearthed after investigators looked into 37 bank accounts linked to the criminal network. Over 300 people in the USA, France and Germany are said to have fallen victim to the timeshare cheats between 2000 and 2006. However the police also accept that the full extent of the fraud will never be known.

The original fraud team leader is said to be a Briton whose full name has not been released. He was later replaced by a South African.
The scam, which has been used many times before and still exists in various guises, may be sadly familiar to some readers. Owners of timeshare properties were contacted by telephone and told that a buyer was offering a good price for their apartment but of course this keen purchaser never existed. They were then asked to send money to the fraudsters either as cash transfers or cheques to pay for the paperwork for the fake sale.

Sixteen people were rounded up by police in raids on Fuengirola, Mijas, Benalmádena and Torremolinos. It is estimated that they operated some 28 fake companies during the five years they ran the fraud. The prosecutor has stated that the number of people outside of Spain who were indiscriminately contacted and cheated out of money is practically incalculable. Indeed while 300 cases have been cited it is suspected that hundreds more actually exist.


Amy Fitzpatrick's family offers substantial reward

Authorities still seeking info on family friend’s missing Ford Fiesta

By Oliver McIntyre
The family of missing Irish teenager Amy Fitzpatrick, who disappeared on the night of January 1 while walking home from a friend’s house in Mijas, has offered a “substantial reward” for anyone who provides useful information leading to her whereabouts. The reward offer was announced Saturday in a communication issued by David Mahon, the partner of the missing girl’s mother.

Amy was last seen at around 10pm on New Years Day when she left her friend’s house, where she had been helping baby-sit her friend’s younger brother. She left the house, in the Calypso urbanisation, heading to her family’s home in Riviera del Sol, about a 15-minute walk using a common shortcut along a poorly lit track through some open wasteland.

At the time of her disappearance, Amy, who has dark, shoulder-length hair, was wearing a black jacket, dark sweatpants, a black Diesel T-shirt and black furry boots.

Following a series of massive searches in the area with no results, authorities have been pursuing two main lines of investigation; that Amy voluntarily ran away from home or that she came into harms way while walking home.

English plates
Investigators are still searching for a family friend’s car that went missing around the same time Amy did and to which it is believed she may have had access. The care is a while Ford Fiesta with English plates (C-955-SLK).

Anyone with information that could be useful in the search for Amy is urged to call the Guardia Civil (062) or the family’s hotline (686 044 181).


Greenpeace demands halt to Los Merinos

The golf development is illegal, says the environmental group

By David Eade

Greenpeace has called on the president of the regional government, Manuel Chaves, to halt the work underway on the creation of a golf and residential complex at Los Merinos in Ronda.

The national director of Greenpeace, Juan López de Uralde, has described the development as illegal. He was speaking at a conference in Ronda during which he highlighted the various town planning irregularities in Málaga province.

López de Uralde singled out the opposition to the project mounted by the Plataforma Cueveña en Defensa del Agua and the various environmental groups in the area that are fighting against the golf course, which will also have 800 homes and three luxury hotels.
He said the fact that the project was proceeding was a sign of poor town planning and a lack of democracy in Ronda, and the image of the whole province was suffering because of the incompetence of the public authorities in dealing with such illegal schemes.
The golf project at Los Merinos is opposed by several town halls in the area, as well as by local residents and environmental groups, because they fear it will drain the water resources they rely on both in residential areas and for agriculture. The regional government attempted to have the development halted in the courts but the judge allowed work to continue, and that decision is not being challenged on appeal.

Ronda town hall itself has always backed the development, which it says is important for both tourism and employment in the municipality. Los Merinos has made strong efforts to meet existing environmental laws and says it will comply with the regional government’s new laws on golf developments.

Whose water?
One of the key problems is that Ronda covers a large area of land and Los Merinos is at one of the farthest points from the town. Therefore, the water drawn by the development for its course and residential complexes will not come from the municipality of Ronda itself but from the resources of Cuevas del Becerro, Arriate and other smaller communities.


Gibraltar slashes landing fees ahead of summer

Minister says cost cutting will help to develop existing services

By David Eade

ONE OF the key reasons given for airlines not using Gibraltar’s airport has been the high cost of the landing fees. This was given as the cause for Monarch switching its Manchester service to Jerez last year and is also said to be behind the reluctance of airlines to establish new routes to and from the Rock.

Last year the Gibraltar government took over control of civil matters at the airport from the Ministry of Defence and promised that this would result in a lowering of landing fees. Now it says that a more cost effective set of charges will come into effect on March 30, the start of the 2008 summer schedule.

Deputy Chief Minister, Joe Holliday, who is responsible for tourism said the cost cutting will help to develop existing services and open up opportunities for new destinations. He added: “This new financial model will have the desired effect in the medium term to develop existing services and open up opportunities for new destinations. Gibraltar airport was simply too expensive compared to similar airports elsewhere, and in this day and age, airport costs are an important factor in the business and financial model of a modern airline”.

Seventy per cent discount
In a statement the Ministry of Enterprise, Development and Technology stated: “The current landing, navigation and parking fees will be discounted by 70 per cent to all commercial airline operators on new and existing routes. The current Passenger Service Charge will remain at £10 per passenger and will be known, in due course, as ‘Air Passenger Duty’, in line with industry practice.”

With the reduction in landing fees an Airbus A320 that currently pays a landing fee of £1,362 will be paying approximately £400.


Study highlights Bay of Algeciras contamination

Consistent, long-term polluting is worse than one-time oil spill, says study

By David Eade

The oil contamination on Algeciras beaches caused by leaking fuel from the New Flame, which run aground off Gibraltar’s Europa Point in August, is putting the environmental spotlight on the zone, especially during the run-up to the March 9 regional and general elections.

Now an investigation by the University of Cádiz reports that the state of the seabed in the Bay of Algeciras is far worse than conditions in Galicia, where the sinking of the Prestige tanker in November 2002 caused an environmental disaster.

The document, produced by Carmen Morales and Ángel del Valls, both of the Environmental and Marine Science Department, highlights the capacity of the environment to recover from a one-time major oil spill such as that caused by the Prestige. In contrast, they say that the bay of Algeciras has suffered more moderate doses of pollution over a much longer period of time and this has caused major damage to the seabed.

Ángel del Valls reports that there are zones with more concentrated pollution in the bay and that these contain a higher level of dangerous contamination, with very significant biological effects. The contamination comes not only from Gibraltar and its port but also the rivers that carry the industrial waste from San Roque and Los Barrios, as well as the port of Algeciras and the refinery.

The study identifies two key contaminates. One is a by-product used in the painting of vessels and the other is a form of hydrocarbon that is very persistent in the environment and difficult to break down. Whilst in Galicia there has been a significant recovery by local fauna, in the bay zone there has been a wider-sweeping biological change due largely to these hydrocarbons in the sea sediment.

Major problems
Key problems faced by the bay include the industrial complexes in Los Barrios and San Roque and the large number of shipping movements through the Strait, estimated at 100,000 vessels a year, with 20 million tonnes of petroleum products being carried through the area. Greenpeace says the bay is fourth in the world league for ‘bunkering’ – refuelling operations on the high seas – and the major port town of Algeciras currently pours all its sewage into the bay as it treatment plant has yet to be constructed.


Granada's A44 motorway to open by summer

Minister also announces Las Pedrizas toll motorway opening for December 2009

By Dave Jamieson

THE MOTORWAY between the city of Granada and the coast will be fully open by the summer. The news came from Minister for Development, Magdalena Álvarez, when she visited Motril on Saturday.

The A44 autovía has been under construction for some years and news of its completion will come as welcome news for regular users of the route. Also known as the Autovía de Sierra Nevada, the motorway begins 190 kilometres from the coast in Bailén and travels via Jaén to Granada, from where it continues south to the coast. The final stretch to open will complete the 30 kilometres from Ízbor, passing through the gorge of the River Guadalfeo west of Las Alpujarras, to Motril where it will link to the coastal A7 Autovía del Mediterráneo.

The minister also announced that most of the A7 from Nerja to Motril, which presently runs only as far as La Herradura, will be open by the end of next year. The exception will be the stretch between Taramay and Lobres near Almuñécar where work was suspended after the deaths of six construction workers in November 2005 after a section of a viaduct crashed to the ground. Sra Álvarez said this stretch would be completed in early 2010.

Las Pedrizas
Meanwhile, last Monday saw the start of work on the new AP-46 toll motorway between Málaga and Antequera. The Las Pedrizas motorway will run from the Puerto de la Torre junction on Málaga’s planned second ring road to Villanueva de Cauche and is being built to relieve congestion on the busy A45 road. It will be 24.5 kilometres in length and will carry up to 17,000 vehicles per day. The project has a budget of 375 million euros and the road is expected to be open to paying customers by the end of 2009.


Dust-up over Alhaurín air testing

Association claims tests are a politically motivated sham

By Oliver McIntyre

A LOCAL anti-quarry association has questioned the validity of a two-week air-quality test being carried out in Alhaurín de la Torre and called for permanent dust-metering stations to be installed.
The town hall announced last week that, at its request, the Junta de Andalucía’s Environment Department is performing a series tests to measure airborne dust particles related to the local quarrying industry. Measuring stations, with two types of meters each, are being installed at three locations in the town and measurements will be carried out over a 15-day period.

But the Platform for Alhaurín’s Health and Sierra (PDSS) says the tests are insufficient and little more than a politically motivated sham. “Curiously, [the tests are being carried out] exactly when there is the smallest amount of dust, right in the middle of winter, and the results will be made public in the heat of the [regional and general] elections campaign,” said Lina Arlandis, the platform’s president.

Savagely dynamited sierra
Further, she said, in the weeks leading up to the testing, “we have all seen how they’ve savagely dynamited our sierra,” allowing materials to be stockpiled so that “during the measurement period [the quarries] will work as little as possible and will constantly water down the materials” to minimise dust. The foreseeable result will be test readings “way below the legally permitted levels,” she said.
The PDSS has filed written requests with the town hall and the Junta’s Environment Department calling for the installation of permanent dust meters in the town, “due to the constant and alarming dust clouds” caused by the local quarries.


More than 13,000 foreigners seek help in Mijas

The department, the first of its kind on the coast, started up in 1985

By Oliver McIntyre

The Mijas Foreigners’ Department handled 13,547 consultations last year, the majority of them from British residents of the town, according to the department’s figures. Britons made up 7,662 of the calls, visits or email quarries to the office, with Germans coming in at a distant second place, with 1,710 consultations, followed by Danes, with 1,173, and the Dutch, with 451.

According to the department’s most recent data, Mijas currently has some 30,000 foreign residents representing 120 nationalities and making up around 40 per cent of the town’s total population.

Multi-lingual staff handle queries in six languages
Mijas’s pioneering foreigners’ department was first launched more than 23 years ago, starting a trend that over the years would see similar services set up in towns throughout the Costa region and beyond. Its multilingual staff can now handle queries in six languages, helping non-Spanish residents with town hall matters as well as issues related to Spanish law and taxes, residency concerns, the health-care system and more. The department also coordinates a volunteer interpreter programme at local health centres and for the police and Guardia Civil.

In addition to an array of cultural and recreational activities throughout the year, the department organises an annual Information Day for Foreign Residents, which this year is scheduled for April 25 at the CIO Mijas hotel and leisure industries school. More information is available from the Foreigners’ Department (952 589 010), which is located at the town hall in Mijas Pueblo.


Economic fears curb consumer spending

Store brand sales soar as buyers attempt to spend less at the supermarket

By Oliver McIntyre

HIGH INFLATION and concerns over a possible economic crisis have made Spanish consumers jittery, resulting in the slowest growth in consumer spending since the introduction of the euro in 2002, according to an AC Nielsen study. Consumer spending on basic household goods increased by just 5.5 per cent in 2007, to a total of 64.2 billion euros. Much of the increase in the amount spent can be attributed to high inflation – in January the official year-on-year inflation rate hit 4.3 per cent – meaning actual consumer demand grew even less. Further, consumers are opting more and more for store brands over higher priced name brands for many products, according to the study. Store brands last year made up 25.9 per cent of sales for packaged foods, health and beauty products, and household cleaning items, bringing in a total of 9.91 billion euros. For some products, they made up as much as 42 per cent of total sales. Perhaps not surprising given that in many cases they are made by the same producers that make the name brands, but sell for 20 per cent to 45 per cent less.

Consumers spend more on leisure and entertainment
The study also showed a tendency for consumers to spend more on leisure and entertainment, and less on food and domestic products. For example, while sales of home appliances increased by just 4.4 per cent in 2007, sales of audio-visual equipment rose 7.4 per cent, telecommunications products jumped by 16.4 per cent, and video-game consoles took a soaring leap of 63.5 per cent.


New pet legislation in force next week

By Dave Jamieson

OWNERS OF exotic pets in Andalucía have six months to find new homes for them. The regional government has approved new legislation which will prohibit the private ownership of any creatures which are considered to be a risk.

From March 1, it will be illegal to keep certain species of creatures such as alligators and snakes as pets. However, existing owners are being given an amnesty of six months to make new arrangements for their animals’ welfare. Such creatures will only be allowed to be kept at premises specifically licensed by the Junta de Andalucía.
The Doberman is being added to the list of dogs considered to be dangerous, joining breeds already covered including the pit bull terrier and the rottweiller. Owners of such dogs are obliged to have third party insurance with minimum cover of 175,000 euros, to keep the animal muzzled in public places, and to control it with an unbreakable lead no longer than one metre. Documents relating to the dogs must be carried at all times and they will be banned from entering any place where children are present. The new legislation is very specific on details of dogs considered to be a threat, giving maximum body sizes and weight of those animals excluded, and sets a fines of up to 115,000 euros for those who contravene the rules.

Junta councillor Evangelina Naranjo last week described the new laws as “pioneering” in Spain, adding they would add to public safety and security.