News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week May 12th to May 18th 2005.
ILLEGAL BUILDING CRACKDOWN
Expats blamed for rise of illegal ‘fincas’
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
POLICE REPORTS HAVE JUST REVEALED THAT NEARLY HALF OF THE ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION CASES HANDLED BY THE REGIONAL POLICE THIS YEAR IN THE PROVINCE OF MÁLAGA HAVE INVOLVED FOREIGNERS, ESPECIALLY BRITONS.
From January to May of this year, regional police have handled a total of 35 cases, with 29 individuals facing some form of charges and 17 people actually arrested. The investigations have focused on several inland towns known to have significant problems with illegal construction on rural properties: Cártama in the Guadalhorce Valley, Yunquera in the Sierra de las Nieves and Cútar in the Axarquía. In Cártama, some of those charged with illegal construction also faced additional charges of ‘disobedience’ for failing to comply with multiple stop-work orders from the Town Hall.
The regional land-use law (LOUA, for ‘Ley de Ordenación Urbanística de Andalucía’) has required Town Halls to stiffen up on illegal construction since 2002. And harsher penalties under the law – including potential prison sentences up to three years – have served as a strong deterrent for those who might be considering building where they should not, according to the regional police unit in charge of investigating such cases.
However, the relative cheapness of land in small inland towns compared with that on the coast and the desirable tranquillity to be found in these rural enclaves means that they still face an uphill battle in fighting illegal construction, say officials. In some cases, the Town Halls have been reported to face the ire of their own citizenry for strictly enforcing land-use laws, as doing so often closes a potential economic opportunity for local owners of old, rundown ‘cortijos’ that are no longer profitable as agricultural land.
Nonetheless, officials say some headway has been made in at least certain inland areas. The Junta de Andalucía’s Public Works delegate for Málaga says that the LOUA land-use laws have cut by 50 per cent the number of land-use irregularities being committed in the Axarquía, for example.
ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION INFRACTIONS
Illegal-construction infractions include a wide array of activities, from building on land classified as rural and non-developable to obtaining a licence for minor remodelling but instead making radical changes or additions to existing structures. One typical ‘trick’ seen often by authorities is the conversion of ‘casa de aperos’ tool sheds, which are allowed on many rural properties, into full-fledged homes with manicured yards and swimming pools. While the practice is still seen, police say it has been greatly curbed by better controls and stiffer penalties.
New Mijas police station underway
The two million-euro project has a timeline of 14 months.
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
CONSTRUCTION WORK ON THE NEW MIJAS LOCAL POLICE HEADQUARTERS HAS BEGUN ON THE SITE OF THE OLD MUNICIPAL MAINTENANCE AND EQUIPMENT YARD ON CAMINO DE COÍN.
To make way for the police HQ, the municipal maintenance and equipment facility first had to be transferred to a different location, at an additional cost of 1.2 million euros. The facility has more space and an additional storage warehouse.
The Camino de Coín site for the new police station was selected for its central location. It is “integrated into the Las Lagunas urban centre and, at the same, practically equidistant from Mijas Pueblo and La Cala, permitting efficient coverage of the [entire] municipality,” says the Town Hall. The new HQ is part of a general upgrading and modernisation of the local force, says the councillor in charge, José Francisco Roca, including the hiring of additional personnel. The station will be two storeys plus basement, with a public-service area, administrative offices, holding cells, a practice shooting range, a 40-car underground garage, a gymnasium and locker room for officers and other facilities.
INADEQUATE WORKING CONDITIONS
The UGT-FSP labour union used the announcement of the beginning of construction on the police station as an opportunity to denounce what it considers inadequate working conditions for police and other municipal workers. It says the police station itself has been delayed since 2003 and will be too small for the growing force. It also complains that officers lack basic materials, saying that none of the four patrol cars that responded to a March 29 gas explosion in Las Lagunas contained police tape to cordon off the scene, rubber gloves, thermal blankets or other first-aid supplies.
King's new trial date set
By Oliver McIntyre
Tony Alexander King’s trial for the murder of Coín teenager Sonia Carabantes has been rescheduled to begin October 17. It was originally scheduled to start on April 11, but was postponed due King’s lawyer falling ill. The rescheduled trial dates are October 17, 18, 24, 25 and 31.
King faces charges of murder, illegal abduction and sexual aggression in relation to the August 2003 killing of Srta Carbantes, 17, as she was walking home from the Coín fair. The prosecutor is seeking a total of 34 years in prison and 300,000 euros in restitution payments.
In a second case in which King faces murder charges, the 1999 killing of 19-year-old Rocío Wanninkhof in Mijas, no court date has yet been set, but last week the prosecutor’s office announced its charges and sentencing request. The prosecutor will seek a total of 26 years and nine months in prison (20 years for murder; six years and nine months for attempted sexual aggression). The prosecutor has requested that the judge set a court date.
According to the prosecutor’s version of events, King saw the young woman on a dark and quiet road in Mijas Costa on the night of October 9, 1999, and stopped with the intention of sexually attacking her. But she resisted and King hit her in the face and cut her on the neck with a knife, contends the prosecutor. He then stabbed her in the stomach and, when she tried to run away, stabbed her “at least eight times” in the back, according to the prosecutor’s version.
King, 39, was previously known as Tony Bromwich before legally changing his surname, and was also dubbed the ‘Holloway Strangler’ back in the UK when he was convicted in 1986 for a series of sexual assaults on young women in north London in which he choked his victims unconscious.
Car sales tumble with tourism figures
Rental companies hold off on renewing fleets
By Dave Jamieson
LAST YEAR’S DROP IN TOURIST NUMBERS IN THE REGION HAS NOW HAD REPERCUSSIONS FOR CAR DEALERS, ACCORDING TO THE LATEST FIGURES.
Data released last week by the National Automobile Manufacturers’ Association show that sales of new vehicles in Málaga last month dropped a massive 24.5 per cent on April 2004, compared with a national increase of 6.6 per cent. Analysts say the fall follows decisions taken by car hire businesses, which have traditionally accounted for 40 per cent of new car sales in the province, not to expand or replace their fleets following poor business last year. The sector’s purchase of new vehicles last month was 23.9 per cent down on a year ago. Low returns from the province of Málaga, usually the region’s leader in new registrations, has resulted in a 1.5 per cent drop for Andalucía as a whole.
However, better news may be on the way for car hire businesses and others who rely on tourism. Málaga airport has reported that almost six per cent more passengers passed through the arrivals hall in the first quarter of the year, compared to 2004. An early Easter accounts in part for the increase, with the figures for March alone showing a hefty 11.79 per cent increase on the previous year. As usual, the UK accounted for most foreign visitors, 8.7 per cent up in the quarter, followed by Germany, up 8.12 per cent. Domestic arrivals rose 4.5 per cent.
Málaga has also been revealed as the country’s third most popular tourist destination with those who book tickets on the Internet. The online travel agency Rumbo says that Madrid tops the ratings, followed by Barcelona. Outside Spain, users preferred Lisbon as a destination over Paris, Amsterdam and Rome.
Meanwhile, a six million-euro publicity campaign has been launched to promote Andalucía in 15 countries, including the US, China and Japan as well as within the EU. Under the banner, ‘Smile! You’re in Andalucía!’ the campaign will spend more money in the UK than anywhere else as it promotes the region’s offering of beaches, monuments, food and golf.
Ecologists warn of countryside fire risk
NEWS Staff Reporter
Ecologists say that a recent countryside fire north of Vélez-Málaga was caused by the changing use of land. The blaze last month in a remote area at Cerro Benthomiz, near Arenas, affected eight hectares before being extinguished by the emergency services and its cause is still unknown. The organisation Gena – Ecologists in Action, has asked the Junta de Andalucía’s provincial Environment delegate to investigate the fire, which it says spread rapidly through the dry vegetation following low winter rainfall.
The group says three factors constituted a major risk and may have contributed to the incident. First is the abandonment of agriculture in the area, leading to the spontaneous growth of vegetation, especially herbs and low-lying shrubs. Their growth would be held at bay by traditional agricultural practices, says Gena. Second is the presence of increasing numbers of people in rural areas, which raises fire risk, according to Gena. It cites the spread of homes unconnected with agriculture, frequently built illegally. Finally, the ecologists warn that the dumping of household and garden rubbish can lead to spontaneous combustion, while barbeques and parties held in rural areas can also be the source of fires.
The group has asked that construction licences carry the condition that all new houses must have an emergency plan in case of fire, and that homeowners take out insurance to cover the costs of emergency services.
Alhaurín approves draft development plan
Plans will be on view to the public until June
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
THE ALHAURÍN DE LA TORRE TOWN COUNCIL LAST WEEK APPROVED THE DRAFT VERSION OF THE NEW LOCAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN (PGOU).
It was extensively debated in the meeting, with the ruling Partido Popular presenting some 80 arguments in favour of the plan and the opposition Izquierda Unida and Partido Socialista Obrero Español parties raising numerous objections. It ultimately was approved over the ‘nay’ votes of the opposition parties.
The draft PGOU details the road projects, industrial and residential development, sports and leisure facilities, parks, and other town-planning details that will shape the town’s future over the next eight years. It includes the proposed 2.5 million-square-meter ‘airport city’ industrial park, three golf courses, a ‘horizontal’ development strategy calling for low-density housing, a new fairground and a new riverfront park along both banks of Arroyo del Valle.
THE PROS AND THE CONS
The opposition parties argued that the plan is too sprawling, not protective enough of the environment (allowing golf courses and not establishing a ban on quarrying) and fails to adequately address wastewater treatment issues. The ruling PP defended the plan as a “sustainable development model” promoting an economically productive town with employment opportunities and strong tourism and leisure features. Officials have set up a space on the ground floor of the Town Hall where the public can review the entire plan, along with maps and appendices. It is also available online at www.aytoalhaurindelatorre.es/pgu.htm. The public comment period is one month, beginning Monday, May 9.
Court blocks Marbella water rate hike
By David Eade
Residents of Marbella will not have to pay the 12 per cent price increase in water charges that was approved by the council in October of last year. The Andalucía high court (TSJA) has ordered that the increase not be applied, at least for the time being, after Partido Popular councillors filed a legal challenge.
The court ruled that no report had been obtained from the water company Aquagest about the actual cost of the service, and thus no official study into whether the increase was justified had been carried out. Marbella Town Hall has already appealed against the decision. It argues that the increase was decided by taking alternative factors into account.
Meanwhile, the town’s desalination plant, which was built nearly 10 years ago during the GIL era but has never been used, will begin operating this month, albeit in a progressive manner. The record dry winter and the resulting low level of the La Concepción reservoir mean that extra supplies will probably be necessary to maintain service during the summer months, when the town’s population increases considerably due to tourism.
It is not yet known when the plant will be working at full capacity, which will depend largely on demand. Desalinated water is more expensive to produce than traditional supplies, so the use of the plant could mean an increase in water rates for local consumers.
Torreblanca residents in construction protest
By David Eade
The residents of the Torreblanca zone of Fuengirola, especially those living in the Peri-B area, are angry and upset at the amount of construction work, which is being carried out there. Torreblanca was once a zone of small residential complexes and individual houses but is now experiencing widespread apartment block development.
Residents claim that so many buildings are under construction that a heavy lorry passes by their doors every minute of the working day. In some extreme cases the disturbance has been so bad that people are now leaving the area.
Apart from the ongoing nuisance the heavy lorry traffic is resulting in the road surface breaking up, pavements being damaged, provoking frequent cuts in the electricity and water supplies. The residents have complained to the construction companies and to the town hall but to little effect.
The town planning councillor, Ana Mula, insists that weekly inspections are now being carried out to monitor the developments and the contractors. However, she pointed out that as there is no urban development plan for the area, there is little the council can do. The zone’s landowners have the right to build as long as they comply with the local development plan.
Former Safeway superstore up for sale
Morrisons announce decision on Gibraltar outlet
By David Eade
THE DAYS WHEN BRITISH RESIDENTS ON THE COSTA DEL SOL TRAVELLED TO GIBRALTAR TO STOCK UP ON TRADITIONAL HOME FARE AT WHAT WAS THEN SAFEWAY'S MIGHT SOON BE OVER.
The Safeway chain was bought up last year by Morrisons for three billion pounds and the company seems intent on off-loading its overseas branches as part of its review programme.
Morrisons recently sold the former Safeway stores in Jersey and Guernsey to a locally listed company that already operates retail outlets on the Channel Islands. C I Traders says it intends to keep the shops open and maintain their existing 400 strong workforce. That just leaves Morrisons with an outlet in the Isle of Man and Gibraltar both of which will be sold.
In a recent statement Morrisons confirmed its "strategy of focusing its business in the UK" and follows last week's announcement to local employees that "the Safeway store in Gibraltar will be marketed in the near future."
The company has stated that ahead of the sale announcement it has received a number of unsolicited enquiries about the Gibraltar store. Rumours have also been circulating that property developers are also interested in turning the site in to a residential complex whilst maintaining a retail element. Such a project would be dependent on the approval of the Gibraltar government.
Morrisons has made it clear that it intends to fully explore the potential for selling the Westside complex but there has been no movement as yet. There is strong demand for land for luxury residential developments in Gibraltar and the giant superstore site, with its large car park area all on reclaimed land, could earn the company a high sale price.
Two Britons arrested for smuggling cigarettes
By David Eade
Guardia Civil officers on customs duty at the La Línea border post with Gibraltar have arrested two Britons who allegedly attempted to smuggle both cigarettes and tobacco in to Spain.
The arrests occurred when the duo in a motor caravan crossed in to Spain telling officers that they had nothing to declare. The Guardia Civil suspected that the vehicle could be being used to smuggle cigarettes. They duly detained it and then undertook an exhaustive service.
In the motor caravan they found 10,790 packets of Lambert & Butler and Superking cigarettes plus 580 bags of Drum tobacco. They then arrested the driver, a 26-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman. The Britons, the contraband and the vehicle are currently all being held at the disposition of La Línea’s No.3 court.
On the same day the Guardia Civil seized 2,500 packets of cigarettes of various international brands including Winston at La Línea’s San Bernardo beach. The haul had been landed on the shore by a high-speed launch that fled when it saw the Guardia Civil patrol approaching.
A major haul of 366,780 international packets of cigarettes was also made at Algeciras port. The illicit consignment was contained in boxes hidden in a shipping container that had arrived in the port from the Philippines. The Guardia Civil have arrested an Algeciras man who was employed by a shipping company at the port.
Vélez embraces solar power
By Dave Jamieson
Vélez-Málaga wants to create technological “orchards” where sunshine can be “harvested” and turned into electricity. Plans unveiled last week could eventually see solar panels generating half the power presently paid for by the municipality.
The Town Hall has been studying the use of municipal space to install the necessary equipment in a scheme similar to those which have been successfully implemented in other towns. Two sites have already been earmarked for a pilot scheme – the roof of the Mercovélez block and the site of the old rubbish tip – with a specialist firm being offered use of the former for a period of 30 years as a first step.
Experts say that between them, the two solar “farms” could produces 3,500 kilowatts per year, nearly half the town’s consumption in municipal buildings, schools and public lighting. Vélez’ Mayor, Antonio Souvirón, said that, as well as saving money, the project would produce a clean energy source, and that it was a possibility that all new houses built in the town would, one day, be required to have solar panels.
Spain celebrates a Royal pregnancy
Princess’s first-born likely to be future Monarch, regardless of gender
By Oliver McIntyre
SUNDAY BECAME A RED-LETTER DAY FOR SPAIN AS THE ROYAL FAMILY ANNOUNCED THAT PRINCESS LETIZIA ORTIZ, WIFE OF CROWN PRINCE FELIPE DE ASTURIAS, IS PREGNANT WITH THE COUPLE’S FIRST CHILD.
Major sporting events on Sunday, including Spanish Formula One star Fernando Alonso’s second-place finish in Barcelona, suddenly took a backseat – or at least a shared front seat – to the news that the Princess of Asturias was carrying the promise of the Borbón dynasty’s continuance.
According to the press announcement from the Royal House, Princess Letizia is in her third month of pregnancy and has a due date in November. The announcement came 15 days before the Royal couple’s first wedding anniversary.
Whether the baby turns is a boy or a girl, it will be born as the next in line to the thrown following its father, at least at first. The Spanish constitution currently states that the title of heir goes to the couple’s first male child, but to the eldest female child in the case that there is no male offspring. So if this child were to be a girl, her fate under the current constitution would remain to be determined, depending on future offspring.
SUCCESSION RULE MAY CHANGE
But Spanish PM José Luis Rodríquez Zapatero has expressed his commitment to removing the gender reference in the constitutional article regarding Royal heredity. If, as widely expected, he is successful in doing so, the Prince and Princess of Asturias’s first-born will be the future Monarch of Spain regardless of its sex.
Leaked document causes Málaga council chaos
Details of the private life of Councillor Rosa Agüera exposed
BY DAVE JAMIESON
MÁLAGA TOWN HALL WAS THROWN INTO CHAOS AND UNCERTAINTY LAST WEEK AFTER A CONFIDENTIAL POLICE DOCUMENT WAS LEAKED.
The report detailed the public and private life of Councillor Rosa Agüera, a member of the ruling Partido Popular, who is responsible for the central district of the city. Other members of the Town Council say that the incident puts at risk their security, while talk of “political espionage” was rife.
Málaga’s Director of Security, Carlos Rubio, immediately announced an “exhaustive investigation” into the source of the leak in an attempt to determine if it occurred as the result of a procedural error or whether it was “premeditated”. He said the most serious concern was not the information contained in the papers, but the fact that they were leaked. Councillor Agüera described the incident as “an attack on my private life”.
Málaga’s Mayor, Francisco de la Torre promised that the findings of the internal enquiry will be passed to the Attorney General who would decide if any criminal act has been perpetrated, but has refused to authorise an investigation commission. However, the office of the Attorney General later announced that it would not wait for the Town Hall’s findings but would open its own, separate investigation immediately.
It has also emerged that dossiers on every Councillor are routinely maintained by the security services, but are normally made available only to guards detailed to protect them and to local police officers working on security matters. The procedure was introduced after the assassination of a local PP councillor, José María Martín Carpena, by ETA in July 2000 which led to increased security protection for the city’s elected representatives. Sr Rubio said that these reports normally include details of the subject’s working life and any relevant information about their private life, and can be accessed by the subject at any time. Details recorded in the leaked papers include visits which Councillor Agüera made to the hairdresser, her attendance at Church and trips to the shops.
SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS TO BE REVIEWED
The incident has prompted calls for a review into Málaga’s security arrangements for councillors, and into the level of detail necessary in paperwork, as well as who may access it. It is also reported to have caused considerable surprise within the Town Hall as it is said to reveal that the Councillor made extensive use of security protection for her private activities, such as shopping.
Passengers to be responsible for safety
By Dave Jamieson
New road safety regulations being introduced by the Government relieve professional drivers of the requirement to check their passengers’ use safety belts.
News of the latest legislation follows details of the new driving licence points system which will become operational at the end of the year, with infractions costing drivers points from an initial tally of 12. Once no points remain, the licence-holder is prohibited from driving and must undergo a waiting period before applying for a new licence.
Further requirements, now approved by Congress and intended to protect children, the elderly and the disabled, demand that drivers be in control of their vehicles at all times and “take the necessary precautions” to ensure the safety of others. However, the bill also includes a paragraph which places the onus for safety on passengers, who will be responsible for the use of safety belts or wearing a safety helmet while riding pillion on a motorcycle. The text makes it clear that professional drivers – including taxis, hire cars and minibuses – will not be responsible for ensuring that their passengers meet these obligations or for the consequences of their failure to do so.
The new legislation will also prohibit children under 12 travelling in the front seats of cars, except when in child-seats, while under-threes travelling in the back must be strapped into child-seats “appropriate to their height and weight.” Under-12s will not be permitted to ride pillion on a motor-cycle, although those over seven will be able to hitch a ride provided that the driver is a parent or authorised adult guardian. In all cases, passengers on motorcycles must wear a safety helmet.