News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week June 24th to Month 30th 2004.
ILLEGAL HOME JAIL SENTENCE
Authorities toughen up on unlicensed buildings
By Oliver McIntyre
A RECENT COURT CASE HAS HAMMERED HOME THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE PROBLEM OF ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION ON THE COSTA, AND THE MEASURES THAT ARE BEING TAKEN TO CRACK DOWN ON IT.
Many Costa town halls, particularly in rural inland areas such as the Guadalhorce Valley and the Axarquía, have for some time been issuing warnings regarding the illegal construction of homes or other structures on land designated as 'rural'. For anyone who thought those warnings were empty or the laws they refer to toothless, proof comes from Alhaurín de la Torre that this is not the case.
Last week the Town Hall announced that a resident of La Barriada de Santa Amalia has been tried and found guilty of building a home in a flood zone. He was slapped with not just a 2,160-euro fine and the razing of the house (at his own expense), but also a six-month prison sentence.
The case goes back to 2000, when Town Hall inspectors detected the illegal home - built without municipal permits or building licenses - on a 2,500-square-metre plot designated as a flood zone. They filed a report with the prosecutor's office, which handled it as a penal case, according to local and regional laws. The Town Hall reports that its inspectors have recently filed 10 more reports on illegal buildings, in addition to several that are already under judicial investigation or at trial.
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Citing the recent sentence as an example of the seriousness of the land-use laws and the potentially severe consequences of breaking them, Alhaurín Town Hall issued a clear warning for rural-land owners or those looking to acquire a property. "Anyone who owns or wants to buy a rustic property that is not classified for construction, and who is told by a developer or real-estate seller that there is no problem building a small home or shed, should ignore such advice and solicit information at the municipal Urbanismo office." In the event of infractions, "ignorance or lack of knowledge, even in good faith," will not excuse offenders from penal responsibility, says the Town Hall.
POLICE CRACK DOWN ON BRITISH TIMESHARE FRAUD
Victims have lost 12 million euros since 2001
By David Eade
THE NATIONAL POLICE IN MÁLAGA PROVINCE HAVE BEEN CARRYING OUT A MAJOR CRACKDOWN ON TIMESHARE FRAUD. SINCE 2001, WHEN THE OPERATION STARTED UNDER FRAUD DEPARTMENT CHIEF JUAN TITOS, OVER 170 PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ARRESTED, THE MAJORITY OF THEM BRITONS.
In the past week the police have arrested six more people in three different operations in Marbella and Benalmádena. Sr Titos stated that there are many such cases and most of them are linked to organised crime. The majority of those targeted by the fraudsters are British and German nationals.
The fraud operators typically telephone timeshare owners telling them that there is a buyer for their weeks who is willing to pay a high price. Many owners are taken in by the scam and agree to sell, at which point they are asked to pay a fee of 1,500 euros to cover the costs of the transaction. Once the money is paid over, the fraudsters are never heard of again and the company closes down and moves on.
The National Police estimate that more than 12 million euros have been lost to the largely British scammers since 2001. From the start of the operation, police have eliminated an astonishing 207 illegal companies carrying out frauds on the Costa del Sol. In one such company, Sr Titos said they found 25 girls making calls to timeshare owners in Great Britain.
The fraudsters are at their most active in the summer months and authorities warn timeshare owners to only sell their interests through respectable companies. If an offer sounds to good to be true it probably is. The European Timeshare Organisation says it keeps an eye on illegal operators on its own account and will take court action to protect legitimate timeshare companies when cases of fraud are identified.
CONSTRUCTION AND POPULATION DENSITY SKYROCKET
NEWS Staff Reporter
The density of both construction and population in the province of Málaga is extremely high compared with other places in Spain, largely due to the intense urbanisation along the province's coastline, according to a report released last week by the Junta de Andalucía's Environment Department.
With 57 per cent construction coverage of so-called coastline land (the strip of land from the shoreline to 500 metres inland), Málaga has the most densely built-up 'waterfront' of any province in the region, according to the Environment report. It has nearly twice the coastline construction density as the second densest province, Cádiz. In some Costa towns, like Fuengirola and Marbella, construction covers more than 80 per cent of coastline land.
Moving further away from the coast, construction density drops; the zone that sits between 500 and 1,000 metres from the shoreline has a 40 per cent density, the 1,000- to 2,000-metre zone a 30 per cent density, and so on. Nonetheless, the province-wide construction density in Málaga is triple that of Sevilla, for example.
The province of Málaga's population density - also tipped heavily due to the crowded coastal areas - is, at 178 inhabitants per square kilometre, more than twice the national average (80 per square kilometre) or the Andalucía average (86 per square kilometre). The population density in Málaga has jumped 52 per cent since 1970, when it was 117 people per square kilometre.
ALLEGED PIG-DISPUTE MURDERER GOES ON TRIAL
By Oliver McIntyre
The jury trial began this week of the 29-year-old Churriana man accused of murdering another young man over a dispute regarding the sale of a pig. If convicted, the alleged murderer could face a 17-year prison sentence.
According to the charges against José Antonio E.C., he and the father of the victim got into an argument on January 10, 2003, over the conditions under which the father was going to sell him a pig. Later the same day, the accused continued the argument, but this time with the man's 23-year-old son, Rafael C.C. The next day, he allegedly went to find the son again, armed with a knife. According to the prosecutor, the alleged killer stabbed the unarmed victim three times, in the face, chest and sternum.
In his initial statements to the jury, the defendant offered a completely different version of events and denied that he killed the victim. He said that after he and the victim's father came to blows in a bar over the disputed pig sale, the father and the victim's two brothers came to his house and attacked him. They beat him and attempted to stab him, but the knife was blocked by his belt, he said. The following day he ran into victim, who punched him, threw him to the ground and then ran into a bar and grabbed first a steel bar, and then a knife. In the ensuing scuffle, said the defendant, he grabbed the blade of the knife but he did not kill the victim. He fled on a motorbike with his brother-in-law, he said, and someone else must have killed the victim later.
NERJA BARS CLASH WITH TOWN HALL OVER HOURS
Officials stiffen enforcement of existing legislation
By Dave Jamieson
THE AFTERMATH OF A BRAWL IN NERJA HAS LED TO A CLAMPDOWN BY THE TOWN HALL ON OPERATING HOURS AND PROCEDURES FOR BARS IN POPULAR NIGHTLIFE ZONES.
As reported in CDSN two weeks ago, an incident in the late-night bar area of Tutti Frutti Square left two young men, two Guardia Civil officers and a local police officer injured. Local police advised bar owners in the area last week that they must now observe more closely their licensed opening hours, shutting down outside terraces at 2.00 and indoor bars at 3.00, with both closing times extended by an hour on Fridays, Saturdays and any night preceding a public holiday.
Officers say they have received complaints of late-night noise from residents in the area and as a result, the enforcement of legislation dating from March 2002 is being tightened up. The news, however, was not welcomed by many businesses owners in the area, who chose to close on Monday night of last week in an act of protest. The following day, a delegation of proprietors from Plaza Tutti Frutti and neighbouring Calle Antonio Millón attended a meeting at the Town Hall to address the problem.
Speaking for the local bar owners, Manuel Cuenca demanded that the Town Hall provide a continuous police presence in the area and that officers tackle the problem of young people drinking in Nerja's streets late at night. Francisco Adrián Fernández, the councillor responsible for local businesses, said that in addition to more stringent controls on closing times, bars that provide musical entertainment will be required to keep doors and windows closed. The Town Hall has also announced that the area, which houses about 30 bars employing around 100 people, will be kept clear of scooters and motorcycles.
Bar owners are continuing their campaign to have the regulations relaxed so that they may operate the same way as in previous years. Opposition parties at the Town Hall have already called for controls to regulate entrance to the central area of the town at night in order to prevent gangs of hooligans from outside Nerja entering the town to cause trouble.
MADRID ORDERS ACTION ON SAN PEDRO UNDERPASS
By David Eade
The Minister of Public Works, Magdalena Álvarez, has stated that the long-awaited San Pedro underpass on the A-7 (old N-340) is a priority for the new administration. She has ordered a technical project to be drawn up and a cost analysis produced.
The move by the new government is in direct contrast to that of the previous administration. Last year the president of the regional government, Manuel Chaves, requested the central government act on the ruling made by the Ombudsman, Enrique Múgica, that Madrid had full competence to order a start to the project, which he deemed to be in the public interest. However, the government refused to take any action until the regional government approved Marbella's town planning ordinance.
The San Pedro bottleneck of three sets of traffic lights sees 50,000 vehicles pass through it each day. Other than the toll motorway it is the only access to the western Costa del Sol and Cádiz coast and is one of the major traffic black spots in Spain.
Meanwhile, the long-planned third access point from the A-7 to Puerto Banús to alleviate summer traffic congestion has been given the green light - but work won't start till September. The project has been approved by the Ministry of Public Works and is now waiting the issuing of the necessary licences. The new link will be at km 175 on the A-7, close to the roundabout at the El Corte Inglés Costa Marbella commercial centre.
AXARQUÍA COUNTRYSIDE ON HIGH FIRE ALERT
Regional 'Infoca' plan addresses increased risk
By Dave Jamieson
THE AXARQUÍA IS AT HIGH RISK OF COUNTRYSIDE FIRES THIS SUMMER, ACCORDING TO OPERATIVES OF PLAN INFOCA, ANDALUCÍA'S CONSERVATION PROGRAMME TO PROTECT THE COUNTRYSIDE.
Coinciding with the launch of a 15.1 million-euro plan to guard against seasonal blazes, the Infoca co-ordinators offered two main reasons for the warning to the eastern Costa del Sol. First, the area is forecast to experience winds much stronger than zones west of Málaga, and second, an increasing number of abandoned agricultural plots has left untended vegetation in a ripe state for combustion. In addition, heavy rainfall earlier in the year, which exceeded 40 inches in some places, encouraged growth and has resulted in an abundance of grasses and other plants.
According to Infoca co-ordinators, 3,300 local people, including specialists and volunteers, are on standby in case of an outbreak. The province of Málaga has three helicopters available, each carrying up to 1,300 litres of water, and two aircraft capable of holding up to 5,500 litres, plus numerous light vehicles and other firefighting apparatus.
Over half the budget, 8.7 million euros, has been earmarked for fire prevention measures, with the remaining 6.4 million available for extinction operations. Two forest-defence centres have been established in Colmenar and Ronda, with a sub-base in Cártama, and there are 19 detection points, operating on a military infrared system, distributed throughout the countryside.
Meanwhile, an old idea has been implemented anew near Nerja in an effort to eliminate some of the dangerous plant growth that could fuel a fire. The Environment Department at the Junta de Andalucía has authorised the use of the humble farm cow on land in the Fuente del Esparto area, which is reported to be seriously overgrown. A farmer who owns a herd of 10 cows will be permitted to graze them there for 40 days.
TORREMOLINOS OPPOSITION WANTS TO SINK BENALMADENA
By Oliver McIntyre
The opposition Izquierda Unida and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) parties at Torremolinos Town Hall joined together last week to speak out against the proposed Benalmádena marina enlargement project. At a joint press conference, representatives of the two parties stated their 'unconditional opposition' to the plan, calling on the town's governing team - which they said has expressed opposition to the plan while allowing concessions that would allow it to move forward - to take a firmer stance. They also want to open a public debate over the plan, so that local citizens and associations can weigh in with their opinions.
According to the IU and PSOE representatives, Torremolinos has the right to deny Benalmádena's wish to cap the Arroyo del Saltillo - which sits on the border of the two towns - to create an access road to the marina. They say the marina expansion plan includes a kilometre-long breakwater and 48,000 square metres of commercial space that would have negative impacts on Torremolinos' La Carihuela beaches and on the area's commercial activity. They are also concerned about the traffic effects of the planned access roads.
In a further, though unrelated, clash with the governing team, earlier this week the town's PSOE councillors locked themselves into their headquarters for two days in protest over being granted only 14 hours to review the Town Hall's general ledger for 2003 expenditures. Mayor Pedro Fernández Montes (Partido Popular) dismissed the move as a 'farce'.
LOS BARRIOS TRI-CENTENARY PARK TO BE NAMED
NEWS Staff Reporter
Amongst the events planned to mark the tri-centenary of the founding of Los Barrios will be an official ceremony on August 4, attended by the president of the regional government Manuel Chaves. Mr Chaves will also take part in a ceremony to lay the first brick in a new public park that is to be named after long-time British resident and botanist, the late Betty Molesworth.
The park will run from the Cortijo Grande to the Las Presas urbanisation and from Avenida Betty Molesworth to Hormisur. The new green zone will be constructed in phases, with an overall budget of 360,000 euros. Amongst the park's features will be an example of a dolmen, on which rock paintings from the different caves in the municipality will be represented.
In other Los Barrios parks news, the Town Hall is continuing its work with the regional government's Environment Department to restore the forest the mountain areas of Los Alcornocales park. The aim of the project is to maintain a constant environment for the trees and repopulate the forest to ensure it escapes the effects of desertification. According to experts, 31 per cent of the surface of Spain is in danger of becoming desert, a land mass similar in size to Portugal.
NERJA SPORTS CENTRE BACK ON TRACK
Squabble over reasons for work stoppage takes back seat to progress
By Dave Jamieson
AN ASSURANCE THAT WORK ON NERJA'S NEW INDOOR SPORTS STADIUM AND SWIMMING POOL WILL CONTINUE HAS COME FROM THE TOWN'S SPORTS COUNCILLOR, RAFAEL RIVAS, FOLLOWING LAST WEEK'S MEETING BETWEEN ALL PARTIES INVOLVED IN THE RECENT WORK STOPPAGE ON THE PROJECT. CONSTRUCTION WILL BE RESUMED "AS SOON AS POSSIBLE," HE SAID.
Earlier, the Town Hall claimed it stopped the project because of the use of inferior materials, an allegation rejected by the construction company. The Junta de Andalucía said it was one of its inspectors who had called the halt because of dangers posed by a high-tension power cable that runs above the site. The Junta says the inspector visited Nerja on June 1 due a complaint received from the electricity supplier, Sevillana-Endesa, and stopped work the next day, citing a potential danger to workers.
COMPLETION THIS YEAR
As reported at last week's meeting, the Town Hall has now signed an agreement with Sevillana to re-route the power line, and the decision to restart work carries the condition that construction be continued only in areas unaffected by the potential danger of the cable, until it is moved. The provincial delegate for Tourism, Commerce and Sport, José Cosme, also assured meeting attendees that the materials being used are of an appropriate quality. The Junta's director general for Sports Technology and Infrastructure, Leonardo Chaves, later told a press conference that work would be completed by the end of the year.
The new indoor facilities, which include a hall for volleyball, basketball and indoor football plus a 25-metre-long swimming pool, are being built next to the town's outdoor sports stadium at a cost of 2.9 million euros, funded equally by the Town Hall and the Junta de Andalucía.
ECOLOGISTS DEMAND EU ACTION AFTER POLLUTION ALERT
Cepsa refinery is suspected culprit of Bay of Algeciras air problems
By David Eade
THIS WEEK THE ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP ECOLOGISTAS EN ACCIÓN HAS MADE A FORMAL COMPLAINT TO THE EUROPEAN UNION AFTER SULPHUR DIOXIDE LEVELS AROUND THE BAY OF ALGECIRAS REACHED CRITICAL LEVELS. SIMILAR ACTION HAS ALSO BEEN TAKEN BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY GROUP IN GIBRALTAR.
According to readings taken at 6.00 last Wednesday by the regional government's Environmental Department, the levels of the dangerous gas were constantly above the norms considered safe, for a period of over three hours. Another safety alert was issued at 23.00 on the same day, when again the levels of sulphur dioxide breached the safety barrier.
The regional government has installed a network of air-quality control units throughout the Campo de Gibraltar area. However, the only one to record the dangerous levels of pollution is situated in the Palmones industrial estate in San Roque, near the Cepsa refinery.
The regional government issued a statement indicating that all signs pointed to an electrical fault in the refinery complex, as the readings related to refinery emissions. The Environmental Department has made contact with Cepsa, asking them to take urgent measures to cut down on emissions. In addition, it has asked other companies in the San Roque and Los Barrios industrial complexes to cut down on their own emissions to avoid contributing to the problem.