News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week August 26th to September 1st 2004.
Greenpeace demands action against over-development
By David Eade and Oliver McIntyre
The international environmental group Greenpeace has voiced its alarm at the level of over-development on the Andalucían coast.
In a recently released report, it stated that the controls put in place by the regional government are clearly insufficient and warned that within five years the panorama of the coastline will be totally developed.
Greenpeace stated that nine municipalities now have more than 90 per cent of their land given over to urbanisation. Fuengirola, Torremolinos and the Almería town of Garrucha have no space left, as they have built on 100 per cent of their coastal strip, according to the group. Marbella and Benalmádena have exceeded the 95 per cent urbanisation level whilst Mijas, Rincón de la Victoria, Algarrobo and Vera (Almería) are at 90 per cent. In the case of Algarrobo there are only 4,800 inhabitants but the town is swamped with chalets used as second homes in the summer, says Greenpeace.
EROSION AND FLOODING
The environmental group claims that in the past two years 12 urbanisations, five of them in Almería, have been built in zones that are known to flood. This, it warns, creates the risk of a repeat of the type of flooding that occurred last Easter in Rincón de la Victoria. It also points out that 90 per cent of the region is affected by erosion, and claims that the loss of sand on some beaches, especially in Málaga and Huelva, is now irreversible.
Greenpeace has warned of the threat to high-value natural locations such as the Cabo de Gata in Almería, which is now one of the last remaining stretches of unspoilt coastline. It has also spoken out against the proposed dredging of the Guadalquivir River that it says could destroy the beaches of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Chipiona and Rota in Cádiz. Greenpeace also condemns the 'irrational expansion' of golf courses, citing applications for 40 new courses in Málaga and another 20 sought for Cádiz.
Greenpeace is calling on the regional government to impose an immediate moratorium on development on the Andalucía coast. Furthermore it wants the creation of an agency charged to ensure sustainable development in the zone that will have the power to impose preventative methods.
Government officials have also indicated awareness of the risks of over-development on the Costa, and say they have plans to address the situation and promote a more sustainable model for the future. In the most radical example, Environment Minister Cristina Narbona stated earlier this week that she intends to revisit plans drawn up three years ago, but never implemented, to begin tearing down shoreline buildings considered excessively harmful or illegally built too near the waterfront. In Málaga, buildings that were identified in the original plan include the Marymar building in Benalmádena and a Marbella beach club. Sra Narbona also announced that financial incentives will be given to regional governments that take actions to protect the shoreline.
King to be tried alone in Wanninkhof case
Charges against Dolores Vázquez and Robert Graham dismissed
By Oliver McIntyre
ACCUSED DOUBLE-MURDERER TONY ALEXANDER KING WILL BE TRIED ALONE FOR THE 1999 KILLING OF 19-YEAR-OLD ROCÍO WANNINKHOF IN MIJAS, BASED ON A COURT RULING LAST WEEK THAT FORMALLY DISMISSED THE CHARGES AGAINST THE OTHER TWO PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE CASE, DOLORES VÁZQUEZ AND ROBERT GRAHAM.
The judge based her decision on her understanding that ‘the results of the extensive investigation to date do not indicate the existence of evidence of criminality to justify the continuation of proceedings’ against Vázquez and Graham. Dolores Vázquez was originally tried and found guilty of the murder of Rocío Wanninkhof and spent 17 months in prison before the higher courts overturned the sentence and called for a retrial. It was while she was awaiting the retrial that Tony King became the chief suspect in the case when he was arrested for the 2003 murder of 17-year-old Sonia Carabantes in Coín and it was found that the DNA samples that linked him to that case also matched samples found on a cigarette butt at the Wanninkhof crime scene.
VAZQUEZ AND GRAHAM CELEBRATE
The judge’s ruling provisionally drops all charges against Vázquez (they could be reinstated if future evidence emerges linking her to the crime), returns to her the 180,000-euro bail deposit she made and nullifies the embargo on her home. Immediately following the ruling, friends and family members of Dolores Vázquez celebrated with ‘cava’ (Spanish champagne) in the Mijas restaurant she owns.
In her ruling, the judge indicated that while there is evidence that Robert Graham may have covered up information about the crime, there is no evidence placing him at the scene or directly connecting him to the killing. King confessed to the murder in his initial statements to police after being arrested, but later gave testimony in which he accused Graham of killing Rocío Wanninkhof.
JUDGE’S RULING TO BE APPEALED
The lawyers for both Tony King and the family of Rocío Wanninkhof indicated that they planned to appeal the judge’s ruling. They want all three parties to face charges and go to trial in the case.
Meanwhile, the family of Sonia Carabantes in Coín, honouring the first anniversary of her murder on August 14, called for a timely beginning to the trial of King in that case. Around the same time, the family of María Teresa Fenández, a teenage girl who disappeared from Motril in August 2000, issued calls for Motril police to be allowed to interrogate King regarding that case. In particular, they want a further exploration of statements King made in a letter to his ex-wife, in which he allegedly wrote: “I’ll make Graham pay for what he did to Rocío and that girl in Motril.”
English bars & restaurants ordered to use Spanish
By David Eade
Fuengirola Town Hall has ordered that all commercial establishments, including bars and restaurants, must use Spanish on the display material used to announce their products and services. The move comes in the form of a new by-law that was passed in February and was published in the official bulletin (BOP) on June 12.
The councillor responsible for the scheme, Ángela Belmonte, stated: "We are in a tourist town and it is normal that English is utilised on display material. But if it is not in Spanish we cannot guarantee that complete information is available to all possible clients."
To introduce the new ruling, letters are being sent out to 469 businesses in the municipality. The letters will also advise that it is obligatory for all publicity material to be fixed on the walls of the building and not to be free standing in the street, in order to avoid blocking the thoroughfare and prevent accidents. Over 400 inspections have been carried out this summer and the number of unauthorised signs has dropped from 124 in 2003 to 41.
The new ruling will hit many British bars whose owners do not speak Spanish. They argue that they will see no improvement in their turnover by going bilingual, as all their customers speak only English. However, some people have argued that many Spaniards feel intimidated in entering a business in their own country where all the signs are in English.
Second most dangerous roads in Spain
Cádiz most dangerous province in Andalucía
By David Eade
The roads of Andalucía are the second most dangerous in Spain with 25 per cent of the accident ‘black spots’, a total that is only exceeded by Madrid.
According to statistics recently released by the Director General of Traffic last year there were 959 locations in Spain defined as being especially dangerous which represents a 12.7 per cent increase on 2002.
In 2003 there were a total of 3,943 accidents in Spain with 268 fatalities. In Andalucía there were 652 accidents in which 43 people lost their lives and 1,839 were injured. In the national league table Madrid leads the way with 261 ‘black spots’ followed by Andalucía on 227 with a big drop to third placed Cataluña with 151.
Of the dangerous locations in Andalucía, 36 per cent are on state roads, 82 are roads under the control of the regional government whilst 17 are the responsibility of the various provinces and just one is a municipal road. Roads to avoid are the SE-30 and A-92 in Sevilla, the N-IV and A-7/N-340 as it passes through Cádiz and Málaga as well as the N-432 and NA-323 in Granada and Almería.
The province of Cádiz is the most dangerous province in Andalucía to drive in accounting for 55 of the most lethal stretches of road. In second place is Sevilla (49), then Granada (40), Málaga (30), Córdoba (21), Jaén (16), Almería 10 and finally Huelva on 6.
The Director General of Traffic defines a location as an accident ‘black spot’ if within a 12-month period it is the scene of three or more accidents with victims. In contrast there are also ‘white’ stretches of road being defined as areas where no fatalities have occurred over a five-year period. According to the Spanish Association of Roads (AEC) this accolade only applies to 1,868 kilometres of road, just 12 per cent of the national total.
Multiple weekend blazes burn the region
Government at a loss on how to prevent summer fires
NEWS Staff Reporters
LAST WEEKEND AT LEAST 10 FIRES SWEPT THROUGH AREAS OF MÁLAGA AND CÁDIZ, INCLUDING A 95-HECTARE BLAZE IN BENAHAVÍS AND SMALLER FIRES IN GAUCÍN, CASARES, BENALAURIA, CORTES DE LA FRONTERA, NERJA, MIJAS, SOTOGRANDE, TORREGUADIARO AND JIMENA DE LA FRONTERA.
In Nerja two outbreaks, both in the Río de Miel area, began just before midday on Saturday and destroyed three hectares of pine trees and scrubland before being extinguished around 14.30. The blaze, which is believed to have been caused by an electrical transformer situated nearby, was tackled by 50 firefighters, two planes and three helicopters.
Another large turnout of firefighters helped to ensure that a low-mountain fire last Friday in Mijas did not turn into a larger conflagration threatening nearby homes. In the end, four hectares in the Río de las Pasadas area were burnt. Fifty-one firefighters and technicians responded to the blaze, along with two pump-trucks, three helicopters and numerous local police and civil defence officers. Initial investigations indicated that the fire may have been started by sparks from a power saw being used in the area.
The spate of weekend infernos came amidst a summer of frequent rural fires, the worst of which started at Minas de Rio Tinto on July 17, killing two people and scorching more than 30,000 hectares in the provinces of Huelva and Sevilla.
BETTER PREVENTION NEEDED
Announcing restoration plans for the fire-devastated zones in Huelva and Sevilla, the Junta de Andalucía's Environment chief, Fuensanta Coves, admitted that the regional government is at a loss on how to prevent the dangerous summer fires. "The autonomous communities have each improved on the extinction of fires, but we are not reducing their number," she said.
Sra Coves pointed out that 98 per cent of the summer blazes were caused by humans, either intentionally or accidentally, and therefore public awareness is fundamental. In addition, the town halls have a responsibility for the maintenance and use of their woodlands, she said.
Sra Coves wants the regional parliament to set up a working group to study the issue of forest fires. She also announced that the Junta is studying the idea of naming a co-ordinator who would be placed in charge of the various projects to restore fire-devastated zones.
Political sparks fly in Benalmádena Hall meltdown
NEWS Staff Reporter
Local politics in Benalmádena heated up last week as Mayor Enrique Bolín dismissed from his coalition governing team three of the four Partido Popular councillors that made up the non-GIB-party portion of the coalition. The move came in the wake of several contentious and public disagreements between the PP councillors and the mayor's GIB party, in particular regarding a plan for three 20-storey buildings in Arroyo de la Miel (recently reduced to two buildings following sharp political and public opposition to the plan), a proposed local monorail and other urban-planning issues.
The fourth PP councillor, Antonio García Solana, was retained on the mayor's governing team, meaning Sr Bolín slimly maintains his absolute-majority rule (10 GIB councillors plus the one PP councillor gives him 11 of 21 votes).
The lead PP councillor at Benalmádena Town Hall, Jesús Fortes, who is one of those dismissed by the mayor, was quoted as saying that the pact was "not broken, but totally empty." He said he and his party had been faithful to the spirit of the pact but were not willing to be strong-armed into accepting the GIB party line without input or dialogue. Sr García, the non-ousted PP councillor, had a different view, blaming the conflicts on Sr Fortes, whom he accused of entering into power struggles against the mayor. The opposition PSOE and IU parties at the Town Hall also chimed in, calling the GIB-PP governing pact broken. The PSOE party publicly offered to create a pact between itself and the IU and PP parties to effectively overthrow the mayor's GIB governing team. Such a move would be possible only if the combined parties could achieve 11 votes, which they would be a single vote shy of without the one PP member who has remained on the mayor's coalition team.
Road works to cause traffic problems
NEWS Staff Reporter
Upcoming road projects in both Fuengirola and Estepona are expected to temporarily impact local traffic while works are carried out.
Next Monday, August 30, work will begin on the revamping of three of Fuengirola's main thoroughfares, Ramón y Cajal, Camilo José Cela and Juan Gómez Juanito. The Town Planning councillor, Ana Mula, has warned that the projects will cause disruption for local residents, especially for motorists. Work on Avenida Juan Gómez Juanito is expected to take four months, while on Avenida Ramón y Cajal work will be undertaken in two phases, beginning between Calle Alfonso XIII and Calle Antonio Rubio.
Meanwhile, in Estepona work will soon begin to replace a bridge across the A-7 bypass that was damaged when a lorry smashed into it. The accident happened nearly four weeks ago, when the lorry's trailer popped up after a mechanical failure and smashed into the bridge, which carries water supply pipes. Since then the road has been reduced to one lane of traffic for a 400-metres stretch between kms 153 and 152, and the trailer has remained in place because it is solidly embedded in to the 30-ton bridge that carries the water supplies for Estepona, Manilva and Casares. Engineers have decided the best way to solve the problem is to totally replace the damaged bridge, and work will start in September. Officials have warned that when the work is in progress this stretch of the road will be closed to traffic and alternative routes put in place.
Two workers killed in construction-crane collapse
Trade unions say age of equipment and overloading to blame
By Oliver McIntyre
TWO WORKERS ON A BENALMÁDENA CONSTRUCTION SITE WERE KILLED LAST WEEK WHEN THE ARM OF A LARGE CRANE CARRYING 2,400 KILOS OF STEEL BEAMS COLLAPSED, DROPPING ITS LOAD ON THE TWO MEN, WHO WERE UNLOADING METAL PIECES FROM A LORRY.
The workers who died were Marcos M., 25, married and with one child, and Antonio G.G., 32, married and with two children. Both men were from the Granada town of Maracena and were working for the construction company Estructuras Metálicas Granada, which is erecting the metal structures on the site of the future Altos de Higuerón shopping centre on the west side of Benalmádena Pueblo.
While the provincial chamber of commerce, Fecoma, indicated that the company was in compliance with labour-safety regulations, a spokesman for the UGT trade union told the EFE news agency: "The crane was a Potain 426, a very old model" that "is no longer in use." He said the crane was 35 years old, and indicated that the security mechanism that should have stopped the motor if the crane was carrying excessive weight did not activate.
Investigators have not yet stated the exact cause of the crane collapse, but initial reports indicate that it was carrying 20 per cent over its maximum capacity of 2,000 kilos. In addition, it was reported that the person operating the crane at the time of the incident was not a licensed crane operator. The Junta de Andalucía Employment Department says the case will be handed over to the provincial prosecutor's office to determine if there was any actionable offence committed.
CONSTRUCTION DEATHS ON RISE
The fatal accident brought to 17 the total number of construction-industry labour-related deaths this year in the province of Málaga, just one less than the Employment Department's official tally of 18 for the entire year of 2003. Across all major employment sectors (Agriculture and Fishing, Industry, Construction, and Services), there were a total of 30 labour-related deaths in Málaga in 2003. With the two deaths in last week's accident, there have been 24 so far this year.
Nerja urges house buyers to make contact
By Dave Jamieson
It is not difficult to uncover house purchase disaster stories along the coast. Those seeking a home in the sun can be so carried away with the idea that common-sense precautions are overlooked. Land is bought for the construction of a dream villa with full assurances from the seller that planning permission is in place, but after cash has changed hands, it turns out the plot lies in an area classified as non-urbanisable. A house is bought but turns out to have been built illegally. A planned development, which looks great on paper, is never quite finished or the developer disappears.
Such tales are not unheard of and are of considerable concern to the town halls that are frequently involved in picking up the pieces. Nerja, however, moved last week to address the problem and urged anyone considering the purchase of a permanent or holiday home to talk to the Foreigners' Department at the Town Hall, before making any written commitment, for advice on the correct procedures necessary to avoid problems. The department publishes a booklet, 'Living in Nerja', which includes much useful information, but the Town Hall underlines the need to contact its offices in person before purchase and not to wait until the worst happens.
Nerja's Foreigners' Department, which can also answer queries on a range of subjects connected with living in Spain, is presently on the first floor of the Town Hall and open on Monday and Thursday mornings between 10.00 and 13.30, or can be contacted by telephone (952 548 401). In September, the office will return to the ground floor of the building, just by the main entrance, with extended opening hours.
Hundreds gather to watch Antequera storm
By Dave Jamieson
DESPITE THE CONTINUING HOT SUNNY WEATHER ACROSS ANDALUCÍA, ANTEQUERA LAST WEEK REPORTED A TORRENTIAL OVERNIGHT STORM.
However, not a drop of water fell to rehydrate the parched landscape, for this was a storm of stars – shooting stars, or meteorites – in the annual Perseid meteor shower. The streaks of light in the sky are caused by blazing pieces of dust drawn into the Earth's atmosphere from space. The meteor particles, sometimes the size of a grain of sand, come from comets which have passed through the inner solar system, and which have evaporated, leaving behind a trail of gas and dust. When the Earth passes through a comet's old trajectory, this debris burns up in our atmosphere to form shooting stars, which cross the sky at 60 kilometres per second.
THE PERSEID METEORS
The Perseid meteors owe their origin to Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last moved through the inner solar system 11 years ago, and get their name because they appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus. This year’s display peaked during the early hours of last Thursday when more than 300 people, including the professionals and the curious, gathered at El Torcal natural park. The visitors’ centre, which stands at an altitude of 1,200 metres and is presently undergoing a 1.4 million euro upgrade, is far enough away from the city lights for the meteorites to be seen clearly and they produced a spectacular display.
Many of the casual observers brought loungers and blankets, food and drink, to enjoy the free show, while members of the astronomical group Sirio took synchronised photographs from El Torcal and from Algarrobo Costa with the intention of later calculating the shooting stars’ intensity and speed. It was the fourth consecutive year that Sirio has organised the event to encourage viewing of the Perseids, which are also known as “The tears of Saint Lorenzo” since the peak of the shower occurs around the anniversary of his martyrdom in AD 258.
Illegal fishing raid nets 25 boats
Catching of undersize fish threatens life-cycle of some species
By Dave Jamieson
THE ONGOING FIGHT AGAINST THE ILLEGAL FISHING OF UNDERSIZE, IMMATURE FISH RECEIVED A BOOST WITH A SUCCESSFUL OPERATION IN MÁLAGA LAST WEEK.
Twenty-five boats belonging to individuals who are reported to specialise in catching undersize fish were seized on the city's El Bulto beach by officers of the Guardia Civil working with the Junta de Andalucía's Agriculture and Fishing Department. Investigators seized 400 kilos of illegal catches of several species, bringing this year's total in the province to 6,630 kilos, more than twice the figure for the whole of 2003.
The operation swung into action at 5.30 last Wednesday morning when around 80 officers cordoned off El Bulto beach and detained boats as they returned from fishing in Málaga Bay. The action is believed to have largely broken up the illegal market of immature fish based at El Bulto, where four or five good hours of fishing can generate an income of 300 euros as a result of the demand from restaurants along the coast, where the undersize fish are considered a delicacy by some diners.
The authorities are concerned not only about the long-term effects of removing immature fish from the species' life-cycles, but also about substances used to preserve the illegal catches while they are delivered to customers. Concerns for public health come as a result of the use of some substances which are illegal and considered carcinogenic, and were found during last week's raid. Also seized during the operation were 10 outboard motors, a number of illegal fishing implements and two electric generators.
The Junta de Andalucía, responsible for stamping out a practice which became illegal in the 1980s, says it receives many calls on its hotline (900 23 22 32) from people reporting that immature fish are being sold illegally in restaurants.