News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week September 16th to September 22nd 2004.
CREDIT CARDFRAUD ARRESTS
TRAVEL INSURERS GET TOUGH
By David Eade
Debt collectors target former patients
TRAVEL INSURERS ARE WARNING BRITISH HOLIDAYMAKERS THAT THEY ARE NOW REFUSING TO PAY EXTORTIONATE CHARGES BY PRIVATE HEALTH CLINICS IN SPAIN, ITALY AND GREECE.
British insurers say they will not pay in full private medical facility bills if they consider they are being charged exceptionally high amounts for basic treatment. In some cases insurers allege that these private medical centres are also carrying out unnecessary procedures in order to boost the final bills by thousands of pounds.
IN THE FIRING LINE
The new get-tough policy on the part of the travel insurers has put Britons who receive treatment in the firing line. Many of these hospitals and clinics are now employing UK debt collectors to recover the balance from their former patients.
It is now becoming increasingly commonplace for patients who are treated by certain clinics to receive letters threatening legal action and to be told they will be placed on the credit ‘black list’ if they do not pay up. Anybody receiving such threats is advised to contact their travel insurance firm immediately.
PRIVATE HOSPITALS CHECKED OUT
Travel insurance companies are urging all tourists to think twice before being admitted to a private hospital or clinic rather than the local health authority hospital. Often hotels and holiday reps recommend a private hospital rather than the state hospitals which will usually treat patients free.
If in doubt tourists are advised to contact the 24-hour help line provided with their travel insurance policy. In that way they can ensure they are treated at a hospital that is approved by their insurer.
E.C. BANK WARNS OF SPAIN’S SOARING HOME PRICES
By Oliver McIntyre
SPAIN WAS SINGLED OUT IN THE EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK’S MONTHLY BULLETIN FOR SEPTEMBER AS THE MOST SEVERE CASE OF RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY INFLATION IN THE EURO AREA, WITH THE COUNTRY’S HOUSING PRICES INCREASING AT A RATE NEARLY TWO AND A HALF TIMES THE EURO-WIDE AVERAGE IN 2003.
The ECB estimates the average increase in residential property prices across the Euro area in 2003 was 7.2 per cent, noting that this is the fourth consecutive year with increases of around 6 – 7 per cent and that growth rates “are currently close to their highest point since the early 1990s.” Between 1999 and 2003, housing prices increased at a rate 4 to 5 percentage points higher than the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, says the report.
In the case of Spain, housing prices jumped 17.3 per cent in 2003, the largest increase in the Euro area and some 2.4 times the Euro-wide average. The country also tops the list for the rate of increase over the five-year period from 1999 to 2003. “Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Greece experienced substantial and above Euro area average” increases during that period, according to the ECB. The data for 2003 indicate price increases slowed down in the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland. “However, in Spain, residential property prices accelerated further in 2003,” says the report, which goes on to state that “the latest available quarterly data for 2004 confirm the strong increases” in Spain.
The ECB report concludes that: “The rapid pace of residential price increases in some Euro area countries warrants a close monitoring of housing market developments in these countries, given the potential implications for these economies and for the Euro area as a whole.”
SIGNS OF COOLING?
Meanwhile, Costa real estate developers and consultants have begun to report longer delays in selling newly constructed flats. While a couple of years ago a new mid-range 120-home development might completely sell out on spec within less than six months of being announced, a similar development today might take 18 months to fully sell, according to some developers. Still, they say, they are not yet seeing a steep drop-off in demand, as most new developments still sell off all their units by the time they are completed.
Nonetheless, the increased supply of new homes means people have more options and take more time to shop around, and the higher prices may deter some people from buying real estate simply as a speculative investment, as many have done in the recent past.
International gang targets Sotogrande
By David Eade
The Mayor of San Roque, José Vázquez, has confirmed the existence of an international gang of criminals who are targeting properties in the luxury urbanisation of Sotogrande much to the alarm of its wealthy residents.
Sr Vázquez was speaking after various residents of the San Roque residential zone, including many Britons, had voiced their deep concerns at the rise in robberies. They claimed that the increase in criminal activity had coincided with a decrease in security vigilance and demanded better protection from the authorities.
Paralysing spray used by criminals
Amongst the reports of crimes made to the Guardia Civil were instances of thieves using a spray that paralyses their victims and an attempt to steal a Mercedes car.
Sr Vázquez told the media that it was known that the gang involved was made up of foreigners. The Guardia Civil were investigating this international mafia group both within the Sotogrande area and also on a wider front. Several arrests have already been made and from those it has been able to ascertain that a professional gang is at work.
San Roque’s councillor for citizen security, Miguel Núñez, confirmed that an international gang were the culprits. He added that the Guardia Civil were undertaking a thorough and wide-ranging intense investigation but for reasons of security would be making no statements at this time.
Sr Núñez assured Sotogrande residents that not only were the Guardia Civil hunting for the gang but they had also increased security in the luxury urbanisation. He stated that there was a notable heightening of vigilance and security levels by patrols of the State security force. This was certainly the case when Costa del Sol News toured the residential zone. There was a Guardia Civil car on patrol as well as private security company cars.
Alistair Rae, who with his wife Steffi runs the ‘Videola’ newsagents at Paniagua, told CDSN that many of his foreign clients had fallen victims to the gang. He stated: “British friends of ours were recently robbed twice, on the second occasion they stole their top-of-the-range car. There were also two houses robbed recently in Pueblo Nuevo, again owned by foreigners”.
Bilingual schools for Málaga
NEWS Staff Reporter
As the region’s 1,555,526 school children head back to class this month following the summer holidays, the Junta de Andalucía’s Education Department has announced that one of its major goals this year is to push the creation of bilingual schools in the state school system. Department head Cándida Martínez announced last week that the ‘Plan Plurilingüismo’ scheme to create new bilingual centres will begin in October, and that officials will also be looking at reorganising language schools and exchange programmes.
“It is not just about increasing the number of hours of English,” said José Nieto, the Junta’s Education delegate for Málaga, “but that [the students] learn some of their subject matter in the second language.” The idea is to have teachers use English (or whatever is the focus language of the bilingual school) to teach regular lessons like History or other subjects.
In Málaga there are seven state schools offering bilingual education in the 2004-2005 school year: the Christine Picasso, Cánovas del Castillo and Jorge Guillén secondary schools and the Lex Flavia Malacitana, García Lorca, Colina del Sol and Mare Nostrum primary schools. Plans call for 400 such schools to be created throughout Andalucía in the next four years, though it is not currently known which specific schools will be converted into the new bilingual centres.
Guadalhorce Valley to get hospital
NEWS Staff Reporter
Junta de Andalucía Health Department head María Jesús Montero announced earlier this week that the Guadalhorce Valley is to get its own hospital and diagnostic centre (Centro de Alta Resolución). The announcement comes after several weeks during which long-time demands for a hospital in the region have been loudly re-voiced, largely in reaction to the death of a man in Tolox who had a heart attack and then had to wait over an hour for an ambulance to arrive (CDSN, Sept. 2 – 8).
The new hospital is to be built within the next two years, according to Sra Montero, though she announced no specific location and did not define the proposed centre’s size or level staffing. One detail she did confirm is that the hospital will include reinforcements for the area’s emergency services.
Sra Montero also announced that a new hospital and diagnostic centre will be completed in Las Lagunas by January, aimed at serving 150,000 residents in Mijas and Fuengirola. Other similar centres planned or under construction include one in Benalmádena and another in Estepona.
More power promised for Fuengirola
By David Eade
DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS THE CENTRAL ZONE OF FUENGIROLA HAS SUFFERED DAILY POWER CUTS LASTING FROM BETWEEN FOUR AND SIX HOURS.
Now following an urgent meeting between the Town Hall and the electricity supply company Endesa-Sevillana a solution appears to be at hand.
The company is examining the possibility of installing in the very near future new electricity transformers at Mercacentro, El Boquetillo and Los Niños park. At the same time the councillor for public works, Rafael Nuñez, stated that Endesa-Sevillana would carry out a study on replacing the present underground cables for new ones capable of transporting a higher load.
Fuengirola’s new town planning ordinance allows for the building of a new electricity supply substation as the present one is very old and is not sufficient to meet the growing needs of the municipality. Land has been set aside for the substation at a site between Torreblanca and El Higuerón at a cost of six million euros.
NEW SUBSTATIONS FOR CAMPO DE GIBRALTAR
After a summer of power cuts and widespread protests Endesa-Sevillana has announced that it intends to invest 18 million euros in the period 2004-2005 in improving the network and the supply capacity in the Campo de Gibraltar region. It will install three new substations at Algeciras, Los Barrios and Tarifa.
Last year the demand for electricity supply increased by 12 per cent throughout the province of Cádiz, a growth that is double that of the national average. On some days the increase rose as high as 20 per cent, which resulted in frequent breaks in supply.
Endesa-Sevillana has a major generating plant in the Campo de Gibraltar region at Los Barrios. Logic would suggest that this plant would give priority to the nearby heavy industry and municipalities but more often than not it has to meet the calls placed on it by the Spanish supply authority which sets a daily quote to be fed to the national grid.
Benálmadena Museum set to reopen
Pre-Colombian Museum to house nearly 1000 exhibits
By Oliver McIntyre
THE BENALMÁDENA PRE-COLOMBIAN MUSEUM IS SET TO REOPEN ITS DOORS ON OCTOBER 12, FOLLOWING MORE THAN TWO YEARS OF WORK AT A COST OF NEARLY TWO MILLION EUROS TO COMPLETELY RENOVATE AND ENLARGE THE FACILITY.
The Town Hall describes the museum as one of the country’s most important cultural institutions dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of pre-Colombian native art and artefacts from Latin America. The projected opening date coincides with Columbus Day, known in Spanish as ‘Día de la Hispanidad’.
The museum enlargement, which increased the exhibition space from its original 252 square metres to 414 square metres, will make room for some 200 to 300 pieces that were not on display before, bringing the total number of exhibited pieces to around 900.
NEW STUDY LAB INCLUDED
Also included in the renovation were the creation of a new study lab and a store, and the installation of an elevator to ensure complete wheelchair accessibility. Apart from generally improving the museum, the enlargement and renovation project was aimed at making it eligible for inclusion in the regional government’s Andalucía Museums Network (‘Red Andaluza de Museos’).
Nerja criticised for 'health hazard' failing
By Dave Jamieson
Nerja Town Hall has been criticised for failing to demolition illegal constructions along the Chillar river which have been described as prejudicial to public health. An opposition councillor, Rafael Vázquez, says that the Town Council has not acted on a resolution passed in July last year which ordered the demolition of 32 shacks and other buildings which have been constructed on the right bank of the river. Following complaints from local residents, the area was inspected by the Junta de Andalucía’s health department which, according to Sr Vázquez, advised of a public health risk from animals kept in the zone and concluded the only solution was the elimination of the illegal buildings.
The councillor said that some in the Barranco de Traqueones area had already been removed and herds of goats relocated, but others remain, with animals, and constitute an illegal activity. He added that there had been numerous formal complaints from residents and letters from the Junta de Andalucía’s health department requiring the Town Hall to take immediate action.
The environment councillor for Nerja, José Miguel Jimena, confirmed the existence of the 2003 resolution and said it was being acted on gradually, allowing those working there to find other legal sites for their activities and animals, so as to avoid conflict with them.
Jimena to have 60,000 people in 25 years
Nine golf courses and 20,000 homes projected
By David Eade
THE 24 PLANNING PROJECTS BROUGHT FORWARD FOR APPROVAL BY THE PSOE ADMINISTRATION OF JIMENA DE LA FRONTERA WILL INVOLVE THE PLANNING REZONING OF FOUR MILLION SQUARE METRES OF LAND.
It is envisaged that the projects would be completed over the next 25 years and would include nine golf courses, four polo fields, 20,000 dwellings and 3,000 hotel beds.
If all goes to plan the population of the area would rise to 60,000. That would represent an increase of 700 per cent over the existing number of people residing in the zone.
The Mayor of Jimena, Ildefonso Gómez, says he intends to seek approval for all 24 projects. He claims that he has secured guarantees against speculation and the golf courses would be required to store water in winter months for summer use so as to not deplete the local aquifers.
The various projects are now up for public discussion and not surprisingly a battle of words has already broken out between the PSOE administration and the main Partido Andalucista opposition. Claim is being followed by counterclaim with Jimena’s Mayor accusing the PA of alleging ‘administrative errors’ as a ploy to block the development plans.
Jimena Town Hall has said the meeting to discuss the planning and development of a private airport in the municipality, which is to be organized in conjunction with the University of Cádiz, will be held in October although no exact date has yet been fixed.
The news has been met with cynicism by the president of Verdemar, Alfonso Sierra, who is quoted in Europa Sur as saying that such meetings ‘don’t have any value and are always manipulated’. He also cast doubt on whether his organization would participate in the event.
Sr Sierra added that his organization knew that the protest group ‘Plataforma contra el aeropuerto’ were interested in taking part. However he called upon the Town Hall to widen the debate so that not only the ‘plataforma’ took part but all the political and social groups within the municipality.
La Vuelta arrives in the Axarquía today
By Dave Jamieson
Spain’s premier cycle race, La Vuelta, is today spending the first of four consecutive days on the eastern Costa del Sol. After the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta is the third most important cycling stage race in the world. The 59th race began in Léon on September 4 and will end in Madrid on Sunday 26, but the rest of this week is spent around the Axarquía and in Granada.
Today’s Stage 12 covers 145 km from Almería, inland to the Observatory at Calar Alto which stands almost 2,100 metres above sea level. Riders leave Almería just after 13.00, arriving at the Observatory between 17.00 and 17.30, all times being approximate as they are dependent on weather conditions and the consequent speeds achieved.
Tomorrow’s Stage 13 is a journey along the coast, leaving El Ejido at 13.00, passing through Adra (13.30), Calahonda (14.30), Torrenueva (14.40), Motril (14.45), Salobreña (14.55), Almuñécar (15.15), Nerja (15.45), Rincón de la Victoria (16.45) and arriving, after a gruelling 172 km, in Málaga between 17.00 and 17.30.
On Saturday, it will be uphill all the way for the 167 km from Málaga to Granada, which includes one stretch, the Alto de Monachil – a 30 km, first category climb with gradients of up to 14 per cent - which has never featured in La Vuelta before. Stage 14 departs from Málaga’s eastern outskirts around 13.00, retracing the previous day’s steps to Torre del Mar (13.30), then inland to Vélez-Málaga (13.40). Riders pass through the spectacular Zafarraya pass (14.20) and Alhama de Granada (14.50), before passing by the Bermejales Reservoir. From there it’s north east to Ventas de Huelma (15.30) arriving in Granada between 17.00 and 17.30.
Finally, on Sunday, a key stage in the race: the 29 km mountain time trial in the Sierra Nevadas, finishing at Pradollano, over 2,000 metres above sea level. After a rest day on Monday, the riders leave Córdoba on Tuesday for the final six stages into Madrid.
San Roque declares war on bay pollution
By David Eade
San Roque's deputy mayor and councillor for Town Planning, José Antonio Ledesma, has restated the threat he made last week that the heavy industry in the municipality could be dismantled if the high levels of pollution continue. He was speaking out after his initial statements generated a strong response from both the businesses that operate in the San Roque zone of the Bay of Algeciras and the unions representing workers. He stated that his main concern was "to defend my town and its citizens."
Fernando Gil, the secretary general of the federation of businesses in the Campo de Gibraltar, asserted that all the companies registered with his organisation scrupulously comply with the environmental security measures. And the local secretary of the UGT union, Luis Vilches, said that Sr Ledesma's initial statements were hasty and made without thinking of the consequences. He stated: "We are talking of thousands of jobs both direct and indirect that would be affected by dismantling the industries. The San Roque Town Hall should demand that the regional government, which is the competent authority in environmental matters, take all the necessary preventative measures to stop the contamination."
However, Sr Ledesma seems to have the support of some residents of Puente Mayorga, Campamiento and Guadarranque. On the same day that he issued his threat, over 100 residents of these zones demonstrated in the access road to Cepsa's Gibraltar refinery, protesting after a summer of poison gas escapes and bad odours from the refinery's facilities.
Meanwhile, the director of the refinery, Juan Pérez de Haro, has announced an investment of 400 million euros in environmental control measures and equipment.