Starlite Festival 2017 - The Licensing Saga


On the night of 3 August 2017, following the Gypsy Kings concert at the Starlite Marbella Festival, the Starlite Lounge area was unexpectedly closed at 2am, as local police had been requested by the town's Mayor to enforce licenced opening hours. (Opening hours for bars are till 2am, and 3am Friday and Saturday.)

This act was widely reported in local and national press. The Starlite Marbella organisers had already complained about the lack of Town Council support, and had announced that they were seriously considering moving the 2018 edition of the festival (subtly renamed "Starlite Festival - Marbella") to another location in Spain. The Marbella Mayor stated they have full support, as long as their activities are within the law. Read on for the background.

What is the Starlite Festival?

The beginnings

Following the successful Starlite Gala at Villa Padierna Hotel in 2010,the organisers proposed to the town council to use the deserted Naguëles Quarry as the venue for a month-long festival of concerts, the Starlite Festival, along with a disco lounge.

Naturally, the then-Mayor Angeles Munoz (PP) was supportive, and when the subject of a late music licence arose, presumably it must have been brushed over, and one assumes the Town Council agreed to find a way round it. At the time, the quarry was deserted except for some gypsies using it to collect scrap metal. A nominal canon of 7,000€ a year was set. The first festival at the quarry auditorium was a success,in spite of make shift lounge and dining facilities. 

The second year, the lounge area was improved, becoming a disco under the stars, open from midnight to 6am.  The lounge element was important to the festival atmosphere, and probably the financial success depended on it. Whilst complaints about music noise and traffic with the lack of a nightclub late licence had been raised by some Nagüeles residents and other Marbella nightclubs owners, the Marbella Town Council had never intervened. In fact, they even issued special nightly permits. The festival organisers claim the month-long event has an economic impact locally of 80 million euros, in addition to employing 800 people, albeit temporarily.

It was not possible for the council to simply issue a general permit. The Junta de Andalucia dictates that all entertainment must finish at 2am in Andalucia, however certain discos do have late licence to 6am, but but they must be closed and sound-proofed. The quarry, as part of Nagüeles park, had passed from the state to the Junta de Andalucia (regional government) in 1991 and was leased back to the council to use for 25 years. No permanent construction of any sort was permitted.

Political changes in Marbella

After the local elections in 2015 the Marbella council changed, and Pepe Bernal (PSOE) became Mayor, ruling with a complicated coalition of four left-wing parties, including two 'Costa del Sol Sí Puede' (Podemos) councillors who openly oppose certain aspects of the Starlite Festival. 

Lawyer Marco Arafat - a founding member of Podemos Marbella - San Pedro, although not a councillor, made various legal representations to the Town Council about Starlite in 2016. According to Arafat, "The only authority that intervened' was the then head of the local police José Andrés Montoya who was "relieved of his post after raising infraction acts against Starlite to comply with the law". (El Confidencial Marbella)

In 2017, with the Town Council's concession having expired and then been renewed for one year, it was time to renegotiate a new contract with Starlite. The negotiations were acrimonious and the festival licence was only issued 72 hours before the opening act of the festival started. Podemos reported at the time that the negotiations were 'an advance', but not a definitive solution. One of the points of contention was the opening hours for the Lounge (Starlite stopped calling it a disco in 2015) and "only allowing late opening with limited special permissions".  The agreement is not public but included a 140,000 € annual cannon, and 30 free concert tickets a night for the town council (something common place in Spain and often complained about by Podemos). 

Starlite have always claimed that a late permit is not necessary due to the special 'general interest' status of the festival registered by the Junta de Andalucia.

What happened in the 2017 Festival

After the opening night of the 2017 festival, Arafat made a denuncia (official complaint) to the Fiscalia (State Prosecutor), who on 2 July 2017 issued summons against Marbella PSOE town councillor, Tourism and Events Delegate, Javier Porcuna, for alleged prevarication.

On 25 July the two Podemos councillors met with Mayor, and one assumes the Mayor argued to retain the status quo for the 15 remaining days of the festival. Whatever was said, the Mayor changed his mind. He advised Starlite that he would not issue special late licences, and more over would send local police to the venue to ensure compliance.  

The local police went to the quarry at 1.45am. Starlite complied with the 2am closing whilst the local police looked on.This was widely and incorrectly reported in local and national press as police arriving and closing the venue. 

The following day Starlite organisers complained publicly about the lack of Town Council support, and announced that they were seriously considering moving the 2018 edition of the festival. In reply, the Marbella Mayor stated they had full support as long as they acted within the law. A group of about 40 Starlite employees demonstrated to the mayor to show their support for the festival at a separate event, and started a petition.

One wonders why Pepe Bernal changed his mind at the meeting, to enforce a decision which was obviously going to be unpopular among most residents of Marbella and tourists alike. He must have known that such a decision would make headlines and Marbella would be seen in a bad light. He felt the need to hold another press conference to explain that it was the law of the Junta de Andalucia and that if the Starlite moved along the coast - to Estepona, for example - the hours would be the same.

Meanwhile public pressure seems to be working. On 8 August José Luis Ruiz Espejo of the Junta de Andalucia, Malaga stated that the Junta wanted Starlite to remain in Marbella, and that they had already "opened a period" to reform the licencing rules for opening hours. Whatever was open has remained closed and silent ever since.

In September Court 5 of Marbella  returned from the holiday break and started considering the writ. By then the festival had finished and the infrastructure had been disassembled. There has been no public statement since on the status of this case. 

Palma de Mallorca was cited in the press (by anonimous sources) as most likely location for the 2018 festival.

Why did this happen?

Did Mayor José Bernal suddenly see the light from a strict legal perspective and decide to play it straight?  

Was he spooked by the writ on his fellow councillor Javier Porcuna? This writ has never been referred to since so we assume it was quietly archived.

Was he put under unknown (to us) political pressure by the Podemos councillors?

Change of local council

A few days later another event knocked the Starlite off the front of the local press, and answered our question above. The minority party in Marbella council Opción Sampedreña decided to change its position and support the PP opposition. On the 14th August 2017  the Partido Popular and  Opción Sampedreña, presented a no confidence motion against the Mayor José Bernal (PSOE) breaking the pact with PSOE and Costa del Sol Sí se Puede and  Izquierda Unida.  On 29th August 2017 Angeles Muñoz returned to being Mayoress of Marbella.

Although denied by the new Mayor, Marbella now had the dubious honour of a Mayoress who owed her office to a row over a late licence for a music festival in a quarry. 

The new town council approved a motion in September 2017 to ask the Junta de Andalucia for a 10 year concession to use the quarry. This is indispensible since the one year extension in 2017 has expired. The festival organisors have also appealed to the council for the 2017 canon payment to be reduced.  

In late November 2017 singer Pablo Albaran anounced on social media that he would be playing 1st August at Starlite Marbella as part of his 17 date summer tour. Organisors Avory then confirmed that the 2018 edition will take place in Marbella. Concert dates were released piecemeal over the winter.    

In February 2018 the town council meeting voted the festival as 'an event of public, cultural and touristic interest'. By March, 16 artists were announced and selling tickets. Even though Avery still awaited a licence from the Town Hall who still awaited a concession for the quarry from the Junta de Andalucia.    However on the 21 May 2018 the Marbella town hall announced that its concession for 9 more years had now been approved by Junta de Andalucia. This included for 10 year renewals ups to 5 July 2042. The canon was set at 120.000€ per year, a sum openly rejected by Sandra San Juan.     

On the 21 June 2018 the festival was officially presented jointly by organisor Sandra San Juan and the Mayor Angelez Muñoz. The lounge would be open to 05.00 hrs not 06.00 hrs which sounded like a compromise and explanation was given. The Mayor requested that Marbella return to the official name of the festival, Sandra replied that this "will be part of a negotiation". Sandra stated in an interview in December 2018 that they removed Marbella from the festival name after being accused of taking advantage of the Marbella brand and that normally a town pays to have its name in a festival.  

In December 2018 the line up and the tickets for the 2019 edition of the 'Starlite Festival' were announced, several months earlier than previous years. This trend has continued year on year making it easier for tourists interested in artists to plan ahead. 

Sources Starlite Marbella

Marbella Confidencial - La Fiscalía tramita una denuncia contra Porcuna por presunta prevaricación en relación con Starlite

El Confidencial - Tensión entre Starlite y Podemos: el festival amenaza con abandonar Marbella

Sur - Podemos cree que el acuerdo con Starlite es un «avance» pero no la solución definitiva.

Junta de Andalucia