Costa del Sol News - 16th April 2009

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Marbella's PGOU will meet MEPs' demands

Councillor also says the planning document will ensure legality

By David Eade

The spokesperson for the administration in Marbella, Félix Romero, is confident that the town's new local development plan (PGOU) will meet all the requirements demanded by Euro MPs.

At the end of March the MEPs in Strasbourg voted in favour of a report that threatened to freeze funding to Spain if the town planning abuses complained about by EU citizens were not rectified. Many EU residents have protested over problems encountered in purchasing homes and properties in Spain.

The MEPs expressed in their motion particular concern over the situation in Marbella, stating: "...where there has been illegal construction of tens of thousands of homes that probably infringe on [EU] legislation."

Sr Romero insisted that the town hall's top priority is to ensure that in future all town planning matters in Marbella are totally legal. He offered the assurance that the new PGOU would be both legally "safe and viable." He also stated that a solution must be found for all the innocent people who purchased illegal properties "in good faith."

EU demands

The European Parliament has approved a measure insisting on the suspension and revision of all development plans in Spain that do not respect the environment and that do not guarantee the rights of owners. In addition, it says, those developments that do not meet the requirements of EU law must be annulled.

Alhaurín health centre to get security boost

Workers protested for safety improvements after a stabbing at the facility

By Oliver McIntyre

More than two months after a stabbing at the Alhaurín de la Torre health centre left workers protesting for heightened security, the town hall last week announced that measures are on the way. 

"Finally there is a firm commitment to increase the security of the doctors and other workers at the Alhaurín de la Torre health centre," it said in a written statement.

Under an agreement reached with the Junta de Andalucía, the town hall will install security cameras at the health centre while the Junta's Health Department will install ‘panic buttons' in all the centre's surgeries and offices.  Pushing the buttons will "activate the security protocol and notify the police in the event of an altercation, aggression or incident in the health centre," said the town hall.

The agreement came following a meeting between the mayor, Joaquín Villanova, his health councillor, Carmen Doblas, and the Junta de Andalucía's health chief in Málaga, María Antigua Escalera.

The town hall had initially conditioned its provision of the security cameras on the Junta implementing a series of improvements at the health centre, including the addition of a second ambulance and increased staffing in paediatrics and gynaecology.  It says the Junta has committed to studying the addition of an ambulance, though it would be shared with neighbouring towns.

Stabbing incident

The security concerns were sparked by an incident on February 1 when a bloodied man arrived at the health centre, and minutes later his assailant followed him in and attacked him with a knife.  The disturbed aggressor threatened to kill health centre staff if they tried to intervene.  While no workers were injured, the entire staff was badly shaken by the incident and held protests calling for tightened security. 

El Alcázar hotel is finally inaugurated

The Diputacion hopes Castellar's castle hotel will boost tourism in the area

By David Eade

It has been a long time coming, six years in fact, but Castellar finally has its castle hotel. El Alcázar was inaugurated last Wednesday by the president of the Diputación de Cádiz, Francisco González Cabaña along with the regional government's vice councillor for tourism, commerce and sport, Sergio Moreno plus local mayor, Francisco Vaca. The hotel will be run by the Diputación's hotel chain, TUGASA, and is now accepting guests.

The Alcázar hotel, along with the Convento in Vejer, are TUGASA's two emblematic establishments both set in historic buildings. The Diputación hopes that the creation of the hotel in Castellar's castle set high on a hill top overlooking the Campo de Gibraltar will give a boost to the region's tourism.

Speaking at the inauguration Sergio Moreno said: "This place, with its location and excellence, makes the visitor feel very close to the sky. "It is a tourism project for all the Campo de Gibraltar," enthused the mayor of Castellar.

The Diputación de Cádiz through TUGASA has invested millions of euros in creating the Hotel El Alcázar. The fortress of Castellar was built by the Moors in the 13 th century and gives clear views of Los Alcornocales national park between the rivers Guadarranque and Hozgarganta. TUGASA already has a number of small houses that it operates as holiday rentals within the castle walls as well as an excellent restaurant.

The hotel itself has two cafeterias, one of which is located in the former stables. There is also a lecture room, games room plus nine bedrooms. The rooms have air conditioning, mini bar, plasma TV and ADSL connection and cost between 80 and 160 euros a night depending on the size. There is a terrace -solarium with stunning views over the entire area and on clear days across to North Africa.

Tax office aims to speed up rebates

Period for approving ‘borrador' pre-prepared returns is now open

By Oliver McIntyre

The Tax Office has announced that it plans to speed up the payment of tax rebates "as much as possible" in an effort to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers suffering from the current economic crisis. 

Last week the Tax Office (Agencia Tributaria) opened the period for approving and filing the pre-prepared tax return known as a ‘borrador'.  The filing period for the borrador, which is prepared by the Tax Office and sent to taxpayers who request one, is open until June 30 (or June 23 if a tax shortage is to be paid by direct payment from the bank). 

Taxpayers who want a borrador and have not already requested one have until June 23 to do so (anyone who got one last year or ticked the appropriate box on last year's return will automatically get one this year).

For those filing a standard return rather than a borrador, the filing period opens on May 4.

Tax rebates will start being paid on April 16 and the Tax Office says it aims to have 85 per cent of all rebates delivered to taxpayers by the end of July, compared to 80 per cent last year, meaning some 600,000 people across Spain will receive their payment earlier this year.

Review borrador closely

The Tax Office reminds those receiving a borrador that they should carefully check it before approving it, as certain personal data that could affect deductions may not always be included. Typical examples include union dues, house payments (mortgage/rent), real estate transactions, or personal and family details. 

Ronda cancels May Fair due to recession

Town hall says money is better spent on jobs but opposition criticises the measure

By David Eade

A major shock has been handed out to the people of Ronda and the wider Serranía. The mayor, Antonio Marín, has stated that this year's Royal May Fair has been suspended due to the economic recession. His administration, formed by a coalition of Partido Andalucista and PSOE councillors, will instead spend more than 300,000 euros on its economic crisis plan.

The Real Feria de Mayo was first held in 1487 and was given its ‘royal' prefix by the Reyes Católicos. It is the oldest agricultural and livestock fair in Andalucía and is of major economic importance to the farming sector.

Nonetheless, Mayor Marín believes that in the present circumstances the main priority is to create jobs and help disadvantaged families. It is intended to contract 106 workers between May and July, while 200 families in Ronda are living in abject poverty and need town hall help. The jobs will be created in the service sector as gardeners, painters, bricklayers and cleaners, among others.

‘Indignant' reactions

The decision to cancel the fair has provoked angry reactions from the opposition. The spokesperson for the Partido Popular, María Paz Fernández, said: "The benefits of the Feria de Mayo are incalculable. This measure demonstrates the mayor's lack of capability. We are indignant!"

The spokesperson for the Izquierda Unida, Rafael Ruiz, stated that while his party agreed with the plans to help the jobless and needy families, the measure had not been discussed with the opposition parties. He suggested that the mayor consider the various money-saving proposals tabled by the IU.

Air and rail numbers fall but liners cruise into Málaga

Airport arrivals drop by 29 per cent; AVE ridership down 11 per cent

By Dave Jamieson

New data confirms that tourism has suffered from the effects of the recession in the first months of the year. The numbers of visitors arriving in Málaga by both air and rail have fallen, compared with the equivalent periods in 2008, thought the cruising sector is buoyant.

Figures from the airport show a drop in arrivals of 28.8 per cent in January and February.  National travellers were down 28 per cent while those flying in from other European countries fell by 31.6 per cent.  Conversely, arrivals from outside Europe rose by 34 per cent, but this was not enough to compensate and the overall total of over 515,000 passengers was more than 200,000 down on last year.  Visitor numbers from the UK were down 16.2 per cent, German arrivals fell 19 per cent and there were 17.3 per cent fewer from France.

The train has felt the strain as well with the number of passengers arriving to Málaga on the AVE services down by 11 per cent during January and February.  Figures from the Costa del Sol Tourist Department show that 13,800 fewer visitors came to Málaga by rail compared with the same period last year, when the high-speed train service to the Costa capital had just begun.

Cruising in

However, despite the crisis the number of tourists arriving by sea showed an increase in the same two month period.  Twenty-four liners docked at Málaga's port, compared with 14 last year, creating a rise in passenger numbers of 44 per cent, to almost 50,000.  The good news continues from the cruising sector with four vessels carrying a total of 11,000 visitors sailing into the port last Sunday, and five more expected during Easter Week.

Second Strait's cable has no adverse effect on environment

Ecologists blast report as "an insult"

By David Eade

The commission set up to oversee the laying of the 400,000-volt cable from Tarifa, across the Straits, to Morocco has reported that it has not had any negative environmental impact.

Around 14 studies have been carried out including assessments of the fishing stock levels, the number of red tuna in the area, and the effects on the coastline amongst others. The reports have been unanimous in showing no adverse effects and in many cases the environment has improved since the cable laying took place.

Whilst the flora and fauna seems to have been unaffected there have been concerns on the effects of the electro magnetic fields and the impact they could have on the increase in the number of cancer cases in Tarifa. However it appears that the cable has not been found to have prejudiced human health in any way. Agaden - Ecologistas en Acción has been angered by the reports' findings and has labelled the commission's findings as "an insult to people's intelligence".

Third cable in 2016

The Spanish national grid, Red Eléctrica, has defended the decision to lay the second cable. It says the first cable that became operational in August 1997 was at full capacity and the two cables working together meet 30 percent of the electricity demand of Morocco and Algeria. There has been speculation over the laying of a third cable but Red Eléctrica says that will not happen before 2016

Bank of Spain launches first Caja bailout

Caja Castilla-La Mancha to get liquidity boost of up to three billion euros

By David Eade

On Monday the Bank of Spain stepped in to rescue Caja Castilla-La Mancha (CCM), a troubled savings and loan suffering from a lack of liquidity. This is the first government intervention in a Spanish financial institution since the economic crisis began and the shares in the nation's banks took an immediate tumble on the stock exchange.

The minister for the economy, Pedro Solbes, assured the market that CCM "is a solvent entity, its net assets are positive, there has never been a financial hole, but it is facing problems that can only be solved by the financing of the Bank of Spain."

The Spanish government held an emergency meeting to approve a decree that permits the Bank of Spain to inject money in CCM. The decision was taken over the weekend along with the placing of three administrators in the savings bank.

The Bank of Spain reiterated Sr Solbes's message stressing the basic solvency of the institution, but added that it needed additional funding to assure its future. It acted after much publicised merger talks between CCM and the Andalucía-based savings bank Unicaja broke down.

'Isolated problem'

Sr Solbes insists that the problems faced by CCM were isolated and it represents just one per cent of the Spanish financial market. He stated that no other financial institution was in a similar plight and it is expected that the Bank of Spain will pump in between two billion and three billion euros.

CCM was formed in 1992 after the merger of four savings banks. The deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, assured clients that both the government and the Bank of Spain guarantee their deposits and hence there was no cause for concern.

Nerja's market set to open for Easter

The town hall has promised a special bus service to the market on Tuesdays

By Dave Jamieson

Nerja's weekly market is expected to re-open on a trial basis during Easter week. An agreement signed by the town hall and traders' representatives last week has paved the way for market to get underway again after over nine months of closure amidst acrimonious disputes.

The decision to move Nerja's Tuesday marke to tthe Almijara area was made after town centre residents complained about the inconvenience it caused and the emergency services warned of access problems.

However, it became clear very quickly that the traders were unhappy with the change and there has been no market since. A number of noisy protests were held outside the town hall on several Tuesday mornings last year as both sides dug their heels in.

However, the discussions continued and an accord was finally signed last Friday by the councillor responsible, José Miguel Jimena Ortega, and by Juan Rocas of the traders' association, along with two other traders. It establishes a working party made up of councillors, traders and others, which will oversee the market's operation at the new site during a trial period of six months.

Amongst the improvements to be made before the market re-opens is the repainting of the lines which define the boundary of each stall holder's space. One of the traders' biggest complaints was that the previous layout did not include space for their vehicles to be parked beside the stalls, but the new plan allows for this. A new draw will also be made to decide which trader gets which space on the site, while traffic flow at the site's entrance is to be changed.

To compensate for the new site's location being well outside the town centre, the town hall has promised a special local bus service running every Tuesday between the centre and the Almijara area.