News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week February 19th to February 25th 2004.
OPEN FIRE STATION
The hardworking firefighters of Torremolinos are inviting the public to stop by the town's main firehouse for a visit. As part of the celebrations in honour of the force's patron saint, San Juan de Dios, the department is holding an 'open house' on March 7, from 10.00 to 18.00. Young and old alike are welcome to tour the firehouse, where the 'bomberos' will be showing off their state-of-the-art equipment.
TECHNOLOGY HIGHWAY HITS A HITCH
Town Halls say no to telephone companies’ request for more antennas
By David Eade
SPAIN’S MAJOR TELEPHONE COMPANIES TELEFÓNICA, VODAFONE, AMENA AND XFERA ARE ABOUT TO INTRODUCE THE NEW THIRD GENERATION OF MOBILE TELEPHONE TECHNOLOGY - IF THEY CAN CONVINCE THE TOWN HALLS TO PUT UP MORE ANTENNAS.
Known as UMTS, it will bring to phone users new advances in voice, image and data transmission. Central government and regional government want to see 50 per cent of the Spanish population covered by these new services by the end of the year with 100 per cent coverage being achieved two years from now.
TOWN HALLS DISSENT
The road ahead is not clear on the technology highway. The companies are facing a very negative response from many municipalities. Town halls are reluctant to give their approval for new antennas to be erected because of the fears of the effect these installations will have on public health.
In the recent past there have been protests against the placing of these antennas, especially in overbuilt areas or in areas near to schools. These protests have lead to mobile phone antennas having to be pulled down resulting in town halls becoming very wary at the demand for more.
In the region of Andalucía there are currently 6,000 antennas, which is 1,200 below the number required to give the optimum coverage. That deficit is 20 per cent but the figure rises to between 30 and 40 per cent in the case of the antennas needed to transmit the new UMTS technology.
TECHNOLOGICAL ERA IN THE BALANCE
A spokesman for the Asociación Nacional de Industrias Electrónicas y de Telecomunicaciones (Aniel) stated: “The new technology requires better technological support, more antennas” but pointed out that these had not been put up due to “the lack of flexibility of the municipalities.”
So concerned are the central and regional governments at the lack of antennas that they are now working with the telephone companies to try to solve problems with the town halls. Also the companies are now invoking the courts in the battle. Aniel says that companies are strictly adhering to the state and regional government’s legislation in applying for licences. Both the Andalucía Supreme Court and the Spanish Supreme Court have ruled that it is this legislation that regulates the issuing of antenna licences and not the decisions of individual town halls.
At the end of the day, the crux of the problem remains in whether the town halls that represent the residents want to move ahead with technology or whether the possible health issues derived from the additional antennas weigh more in the end.
COSTA DEL SOL HOSPITAL TO BECOME SPECIALIST CENTRE
By David Eade
PLANS ARE BEING DRAWN UP TO CONVERT MARBELLA’S COSTA DEL SOL HOSPITAL FROM A GENERAL HOSPITAL IN TO A SPECIALIST CENTRE SO AS TO MEET THE GROWING DEMANDS OF THE POPULATION OF THE REGION.
The regional government’s health ministry is now studying an expansion plan drawn up by the hospital’s management team in conjunction with the regional health service (SAS). It is based on the specialist care needs of a current population of 300,000 people and also allows for future growth.
The plan has been budgeted at 6.8 million euros over the next four years of which 3.9 million euros has been allocated to personnel and 2.9 million euros to equipment.
The director of the Costa del Sol Hospital, Antonio Pérez Rielo, stated that the expansion plan offered a solution to a region of 300,000 registered residents of whom 24 per cent were non-Spaniards largely from fellow EU countries.
It would allow for a unit, which could handle between 6,500 and 7,500 neurology cases a year with a special unit to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Also included would be the provision of an endocrinology section with a specialist assigned to diabetic cases. The development of an oncology unit in conjunction with the university hospital in Málaga would see a radiotherapy centre set up at the Marbella medical centre.
In addition, the hospital plans to meet the needs of mental health patients with 15 new beds being assigned to them as well as a number of consultants. Other areas to benefit would be heart disease, assisted reproduction and the installation of the latest nuclear medicine and radio diagnostic equipment.
ESTEPONA HOSPITAL BY 2010
Regional government’s councillor for health, Francisco Vallejo, has stated that the municipality of Estepona would have a hospital by 2010. This medical centre would be one of 17 designated as ‘alta resolución’ to be included in a plan for Andalucía. A similar medical facility is also planned for Benalmádena.
Sr Vallejo acknowledged that the current population of Estepona and its predicted growth made it necessary to have a centre for medical attention to alleviate the strain on the facilities of the Costa del Sol Hospital.
The Marbella hospital would still meet the needs of the people of Estepona, Manilva and Casares for complex surgery or for those who needed long post-operative care. However the new Estepona facility would diagnose and treat routine and less serious cases.
BRIT FACES CHARGES FOR CREDIT CARD FRAUD
By Oliver McIntyre
A British man is facing trial in a Sevilla court, along with an alleged accomplice of North African origin, on charges of falsifying credit cards and withdrawing a total of 84,000 euros from banks in a variety of Spanish cities, including Torremolinos and San Pedro de Alcántara. The Brit, J.M.R. (53), is charged with falsification of official documentation, falsification of commercial documentation, and fraud, while the North African, A.L. (47), faces a charge of falsification of commercial documentation. They could be sentenced to seven years and five years in prison, respectively.
According to the charges, the men created false Visa cards using the name of a Canadian citizen whose passport and driver’s license they had stolen in Barcelona in 2002. They allegedly falsified the identification by substituting a photo of J.M.R., who then used the credit cards and ID to make some 36 bank withdrawals of between 500 and 2,500 euros each.
Shoe shop scam
In what appears to be a new case of credit card fraud, a Málaga city centre shoe store called Dream Shop, located on Avenida de Andalucía, has shut its doors and the owners, believed to be Italian, have disappeared and are being investigated by the National Police. According to charges filed by over a dozen clients so far, the store, which was only open for two months, was set up as a front to steal customers’ credit card numbers and rack up as much as 7,000 euros per card in charges or cash withdrawals.
ENGLISH SCHOOL SHUTS DOWN
NEWS Staff Reporter
The St Julian's School, an English primary school in Marbella, suddenly closed its doors earlier this week, claiming financial problems. Distraught parents of the centre's 46 students found the school shut down on Monday morning, after having received a note from administrators the previous Friday indicating that the centre was going to have to close. Some of the parents say they have learned that, in addition to whatever economic problems it might have been experiencing, the school never had the proper licences since opening in September.
The parents have also indicated that they have not received any refund for the 6,500 euros per child that they paid in school tuition, fees and materials. They say the school had even been taking deposits for next term. While some of the parents consider legal action to recover their money, meanwhile they are scrambling to figure out how and where to enrol their children in school midway through the current term.
Costa del Sol News attempted to contact St Julian's for comment, but at press time had received no response to a message left on the school's answering machine.
GUARDIA CIVIL OFFICERS FACE DRUG CHARGES
Multiple cases charge agents with abetting narcotic traffickers
By David Eade and Dave Jamieson
WITH THE CASE OF THREE GUARDIA CIVIL OFFICERS ACCUSED OF ALLOWING DRUGS TO PASS THROUGH THE MARBELLA FISHING PORT AND PUERTO BANÚS NOW GOING TO COURT, NEW CASES OF OFFICERS ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN THE DRUG TRADE ARE JUST OPENING UP.
The Marbella officers, a sergeant, a corporal and a private, face 27 years in prison if convicted. The prosecutor is also seeking prison sentences of four years for their wives and another four years for the driver of a van carrying 2,000 kilos of hashish.
The sergeant and private are alleged to have been involved in the drug scam since 1994 and the corporal since 1996. The prosecutor claims they received payoffs of between 6,000 and 9,000 euros for turning a blind eye as drugs were brought into the two Marbella ports. They were arrested on February 1, 1997.
NEW MARO CASE
Even as the Marbella case is hitting the courts, three Guardia Civil officers living in Maro, near Nerja, were arrested last week. The two brothers and a friend were detained in Torrox and jailed by a Málaga court last Thursday pending investigations.
They were initially taken to the Guardia Civil's headquarters in Málaga for questioning on allegations that they told drug-runners which beaches would be patrolled, so that drug-laden boats could be landed safely elsewhere.
'Operation Algarrobo' began last year and culminated with the arrests of 11 people and the confiscation of more than 800 kilos of hashish as it was landed on a Nerja beach, followed by the detentions of the three Maro men four days later. The arrests are believed to be unconnected with 14 detentions on the previous two days in Málaga, Alicante and Murcia, when another four Guardia Civil officers were amongst those alleged to be involved in a drug trafficking ring. The police said, however, that one of the suspects arrested in Málaga is believed to have acted as an intermediary in arranging transportation of drugs for both groups. Between both operations, 30 people were arrested.
On Saturday, the Minister of the Interior, Ángel Acebes, described as "a total exception" the alleged involvement of the Guardia Civil officers in narcotics trafficking and promised a judicial investigation into their level of participation.
'CAMINITO DEL REY' TO BE RESTORED
NEWS Staff Reporter
The Diputación de Málaga provincial government last week unanimously approved a measure urging the Junta de Andalucía to perform restoration work on the 'Caminito del Rey', a cliff-hugging iron walkway pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge at the El Chorro reservoir in Ardales.
The Caminito del Rey (the King's Pathway) was built between 1901 and 1905 to provide a route for moving workers and materials back and forth between the El Chorro Falls and the Gaitanejo Falls on either side of the gorge. It was named after King Alfonso XIII, who walked along it in 1921 when he came to inaugurate the Conde del Guadalhorce dam.
In recent years the Caminito has been the site of several deaths, largely due to its deteriorated condition. After four people died in two fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000, officials attempted to seal the entrances to the walkway in 2001. But today tourists and adventures can still be seen gingerly making their way along the dilapidated cliff-side structure.
Diputación President and Ardales Mayor Salvador Pendón says the estimated cost of the restoration work is seven million euros.
MIRAMAR DEVELOPMENT NEARS COMPLETION
March 22 date for Miramar-Eroski shopping centre
By David Eade
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW MYRAMAR COMPLEX IN FUENGIROLA AND ITS ASSOCIATED ROAD WORKS WILL BE COMPLETED ON MARCH 22.
This is welcome news for road users in the town and on the N-340 by-pass as it will spell an end for the traffic chaos caused by the development.
On March 22, the new Parque Miramar commercial centre will be opened next to the Fuengirola River. This is a joint venture between the supermarket group Eroski and the Miramar property company. As part of the 6 million euros scheme a new bridge has been built across the river which will also open up the area to pedestrians.
BOULEVARD GOES AHEAD
The Mayoress of Fuengirola, Esperanza Oña, said the opening of the new centre would mark a ‘before and after in the life of Fuengirola’. Whilst the majority of the work would be completed by March 22 the project would be finalised by the end of April. In conjunction with the Miramar scheme a boulevard is also being built between the Mosque and the new development.
LEGAL BATTLE OVER FUNERAL-INSURANCE SCAM
British residents estimate $50,000 has been taken
By Oliver McIntyre
A GROUP OF MOSTLY BRITISH COSTA DEL SOL RESIDENTS IS DEEPLY ENTRENCHED IN A LEGAL BATTLE WITH A MÁLAGA-BASED FUNERAL INSURANCE PROVIDER WHO, ACCORDING TO A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE GROUP, ‘TOOK THE MONEY AND DID A RUNNER’.
Arroyo de la Miel Royal British Legion member Frank Voyce told Costa del Sol News that about 20 RBL members, plus people from other local clubs and organisations, had signed up for the funeral insurance plan, each paying about ?1,500 over a five-year period. Once fully paid into, the plan was to cover all funeral expenses at the time of death, including notification of family members, flowers for the service, casket and burial, said Mr Voyce. All of the current plan members have paid their premium in full, he said.
Now, the funeral-insurance provider has closed up shop and the plan members have filed a ‘denuncia’, Mr Voyce told CDSN: “One member had to pay ?2,000 out of pocket for her sister’s funeral, after the sister had paid the full ?1,500 into the plan,” he said. “We estimate there’s about ?50,000 at stake in all.”
The plan was set up about eight years ago after some RBL members searching for funeral insurance realised there was nothing available for people over 65 years old, either in the UK or in Spain. An RBL member worked with the Málaga funeral-services provider to come up with the ?1,500 plan, without age limits.
PROBLEMS STARTED IN 2002
Three or four plan members received their full benefits without trouble, said Mr Voyce, but then in November 2002 someone died and when family members tried to collect the benefits they found the company’s offices shuttered. Plan members, unable to contact anyone from the company, eventually hired Eleanor Smith, a Fuengirola attorney, who helped them prepare the formal ‘denuncia’.
Since then, there have been several court hearings, including one at which the company promised to pay the plan members but then never did, according to Mr Voyce, and another where the company owner was called to court but failed to appear. As CDSN went to press, the group’s lawyer was trying to arrange a meeting with the company owner’s legal representative, who had indicated there might be a possibility to settle out of court.
MÁLAGA LANGUAGE SCHOOLS UNDER PRESSURE
By Dave Jamieson
LANGUAGE SKILLS HAVE BEEN HIGHLIGHTED IN CAMPAIGNING FOR NEXT MONTH’S GENERAL ELECTION.
Mariano Rajoy, the man who hopes to succeed José Maria Aznar as President, has promised English lessons for children from the age of three years, if the Partido Popular is returned to power on March 14. Yet there is substantial disquiet in the local language schools, provoked by the closure of some of Málaga’s bigger teaching establishments, with uncertainty in the minds of potential students and problems for the remainder of the sector. Since the company Opening closed two years ago, leaving students without the tuition for which they had already paid, other larger schools in the city, including Cambridge, Oxford and Wall Street, suffered the consequences of demanding fees “up front”. But several other more traditional schools of lesser size and fewer pupils have also closed following a significant drop in those seeking to learn a new language after the publicity generated by the Opening fiasco.
PAYMENT METHODS QUESTIONED
The director of Habla Idiomas, based in Málaga’s Avenida Herrera Oria, said that the crisis lies not in the falling student numbers but in the method of payment, which is the first thing potential clients now ask about. Francisco Pérez says that while some schools demanded payment for a complete two-year course before classes start and others charged per academic term, the surviving businesses generally asked for monthly payments. He added that the use of modern technology and the employment of teachers for whom the course language was native were also characteristic of the more successful schools.
‘OPENING’ CLOSURE STILL IN MIND
The closure of Opening provoked an outcry from its students, many of whom had taken out loans to fund their education and were paying by bank standing order, and who were left without classes and no chance of completing courses. Spain is below average in the number of its citizens who speak a foreign language, according to a study by the National Institute of Quality and Teaching in 2002, and experts say that when a school like Málaga’s Opening ceases to trade, a further decline of interest in learning languages is inevitable.
GO-AHEAD FOR RONDA GOLF COURSES
By David Eade
The Andalucía High Court (TSJA) has rejected a case brought by the environmental group Silvema against the proposal to construct a series of golf courses in the Ronda region.
The court has now confirmed its ruling made in November that the construction of five golf courses with accompanying urbanisations at Los Merinos and Parchite did ‘not contravene against the protection plan for the environment’.
Silvema had presented a case before the courts in 1993 seeking to overturn a decision by the town planning commission to allow the construction of five golf courses and urbanisations being included in the Ronda town planning ordinance. The ecologists argued that the courses and urbanisations would damage a protected environmental zone.
The five allowed for golf courses have now been condensed in to three. Whilst the court has given its approval for their construction the developers now have to wait on reports from the Ministry of agriculture and fisheries, the environmental agency and the hydrographic confederation before they can proceed.
Provisional opening licence for car track
Another blow to the environmentalists has come with the decision by Ronda Town Hall to grant a provisional opening licence to the high-speed car testing circuit at Los Merinos Sur. The 5.4 kilometre track will be used to test various prestige marques of high speed cars.
The environmental group ‘Ecologistas en Acción’ will challenge the provisional licence in the Ronda courts. The car testing facility in the Sierra de las Nieves is within the boundaries of the UNESCO ‘Reserva de la Biosfera’.
ROYAL TRAIN FINDS NEW HOME
By Dave Jamieson
When the British monarch George V toured the UK by rail, he would have been unlikely to foresee that his royal train would one day become a luxury restaurant. But that’s what’s going to happen in the Granada town of Las Gabias, a few kilometres south east of the capital, where Ángel Fernández, a self confessed railway fan, has purchased two carriages, built in 1929, which for several decades transported royal personages around Britain. He discovered the rolling stock lying unused at Bobadilla station where they had been stored by Renfe.
The coaches had been brought to Spain for use on the former Al-Ándalus Express service, but were decommissioned 18 months ago after they were declared to be too old for further use. Ángel bought the two coaches last June for just over 1,200 euros and is spending around 180,000 euros to convert one into a kitchen, and the other into a dining room where 60 diners at 20 tables will be served typically Andalucían cuisine. The coaches, which last week were moved from Bobadilla to a site near Ángel’s home in Las Gabias, still bear their original 1929 livery, although the interiors have been modified, and, sadly, they bear some evidence of vandalism during their year and half of premature retirement.
When it opens, and with the permission of Renfe, the restaurant will bear the name Expreso Al-Ándalus, bringing true Ángel’s dream and allowing the rest of us to savour some of the Royal opulence of the 20s.