Costa del Sol News - 6th December 2007

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week 6th December - 12th December 2007


Alhaurín de la Torre takes a step back in time as the annual General Torrijos celebrations get underway. Each year the town honours the legendary military figure, who was captured and executed in 1831 alongside his 48 men, including Irishman Robert Boyd, after an attempt to rebel against the absolutist government of Fernando VII. The series of re-enactments and ceremonies culminates this week in Málaga city centre.


Residents unite to oppose high-tension line through protected valley

Costa visitor receives official-looking winning notice at her UK home

By Oliver McIntyre

and visitors should be on the lookout for bogus EuroMillions winner-notification letters sent to their Spanish or even UK addresses.
A Costa del Sol News reader recently received a very authentic-looking notification letter bearing a supposed Spanish Tax Office photograph and a number of official seals and signatures. Interestingly, the UK resident, who visits Torremolinos a couple of times a year and stays at the home of a friend who lives there, received the letter at her own Birmingham address, postmarked from Málaga.

We just can’t imagine where they got her address from,» said Kim Lester, the Torremolinos friend. «The first thing she did was call me and I told her to fax me a copy of the letter.»

The letter, which CDSN has seen a copy of, says that notification of the winnings, which are from a July draw, was delayed due to a mix-up in names and numbers and that the recipient of the letter has won 985,950 euros as one of a number of people sharing the grand prize of more than 10 million euros.

The letter gives the name of a person to contact to claim the winnings and also includes a payment processing form that should be faxed to the number provided. The form asks for personal as well as bank account data.The EuroMillions scam appears to be the latest in a series of similar lottery frauds, including several surrounding the Spanish National Lottery and reported by CDSN in the past. The fraudsters’ goal is to get people’s personal information and, if possible, to sucker them into sending in a security payment to cover the ‘processing’ of the non-existent prize payment.

Some basic tips
Legitimate internet websites dedicated to the EuroMillions lottery carry their own warnings and tips about such scams. “The basic rule to remember is: If you didn’t enter, you can’t win,” says one. “No legitimate lottery organisation awards prizes to random people,” it continues. Another asserts: “You never have to pay to receive your winnings in the EuroMillions lottery,” It goes on to warn that “you should never give your details in reply to an unsolicited email [or letter] request.”


Ten drink-drivers face prison as new law takes effect

All 10 blew positive for alcohol during first 24 hours of new law

By Dave Jamieson
The new legislation on driving offences came into effect last weekend and within 24 hours, at least 10 drivers in Málaga found themselves under threat of imprisonment. All of them failed alcohol breath tests and could be sent to prison for between three and six months.

Eight of the offenders were detained at routine Guardia Civil checkpoints when their tests proved positive, a ninth was arrested by local police in Málaga and the last was stopped in Rincón de la Victoria after making an illegal turn. Their alcohol levels varied between 0.66 and 0.90 milligrams of per litre of air.

The amendments to the penal code mean that those found guilty of driving while under the effect of alcohol or drugs can expect a sentence of three to six months, or a fine plus six to 12 months community service, plus suspension of their driving licences for one to four years. The alcohol limits are 0.6 milligrams per litre in a breath test, or 1.2 grams per litre in a blood test.

Other prison offences
The same penalties apply to speeders caught driving at more than 200 kilometres per hour on an autovía, 180 kph on a main road, or 110 kph in a built-up district.
Refusal to take a test for alcohol or drugs can bring a prison sentence of between six and 12 months and disqualification from driving for one to four years. Careless driving attracts a prison sentence of six months to two years and loss of licence for between one and four years, while those found to have endangered the lives of others can be imprisoned for two to four years and banned from driving for six to 10 years.

Accidental shooting victim arrested

By David Eade
The National Police were called to the Xanit Hospital in Benalmádena on Sunday after medical staff reported that a young man was being treated for a gun shot wound to the leg and had undergone surgery.

The shooting took place in Avenida del Mar close to the late-night party zones of Puerto Marina and Plaza Solymar. The man was rushed to the hospital because he had lost a large amount of blood.

Officers of the serious crime squad established that he was a 19-year-old Colombian, and he claimed that the gunshot wound had been inflicted accidentally. Officials considered the explanation plausible due to the nature of the wound. However, the weapon has not been found and the police have not discounted other possibilities such as a possible ‘settling of accounts’ between criminals.

Further detailed investigations revealed that the man was wanted by the Málaga court for another offence. He is being held in the hospital under police guard to ensure he does not flee, although members of his family have been allowed to visit.

There has been a strong police presence in Benalmádena’s club and bar zones over the recent weekend periods to prevent trouble after the recent stabbing to death of a minor outside a club. This latest shooting is not believed to be linked in any way with that tragedy.

Meanwhile, also in Benalmádena, the National Police have arrested a 28-year-old Romanian fugitive wanted on a European arrest warrant for armed robbery. He was identified by police officers at a local street market. And in neighbouring Torremolinos, another foreign fugitive has been arrested. The 52-year-old German was wanted on a warrant from his home country, where he faces fraud charges.

Jail sentences for three Britons in Ronda fracas

Two others acquitted and two minors not brought to trial

By David Eade
Three Britons have been handed prison sentences for their involvement in a recent late-night brawl in Ronda.
Last week the seven Britons who were detained in Ronda after disturbances in central streets during the early hours of the previous Saturday morning (CDSN, Nov. 29 – Dec. 5) faced justice before the local court.
Three of the group received prison sentences of six months each for attacking two local police officers and a local resident. As they have no previous convictions, the jail terms were deferred but will be taken into account if they offend again.
In addition to the prison terms, they also have to pay 1,500 euros in compensation to one of the officers, 800 euros to the local resident, who received a face wound requiring four stitches, plus 36 euros to the second policeman.
Two of the other Britons were found not guilty and another two were not brought to trial because they are minors. All seven live in the Ronda and Arriate area.

Fighting in the streets
The fighting first started in a late-night bar in Calle Molino and then spread to the nearby Calles Sevilla and Lorenzo Borrego. Local as well as National Police attended the incident, and broken bottles were later removed from the scene. The local police, José Carrasco, said that thankfully incidents of this type are rare in Ronda.

Fuengirola's old town hall to become hotel

Conversion will create a ‘select’ establishment for the town

By David Eade
Fuengirola has started the process of converting its former town hall into a hotel that will also incorporate a hotel school. The mayor, Esperanza Oña, announced last week that a competition will be held to come up with a suitable architectural design for the conversion of one of the town’s most famous buildings.
The former town hall was replaced last year with a new, purpose built facility by the Parque de España. The old town hall was deemed too small for the present number of municipal departments and the new construction was designed to take into account the municipality’s future needs.

The mayor stressed that the idea of converting the old town hall into a hotel “with charm” was one of the promises made to local people by the Partido Popular at the last election.

Sra Oña said she hoped the hotel would maintain its municipal links and suggested it be named Hotel Casa Consistoral, a Spanish term for ‘town hall’. She added that the goal is for the hotel to have a different ambiance than the other establishments in the town and to attract a “select” clientele.

The town hall’s proposal is that the company that wins the bid to carry out the conversion will take on all construction and other costs and will be given the licence to run the hotel for a 35-year period. After the licence expires, the hotel will revert to the municipality. The hotel would have 40 bedrooms and also include a hotel school if the regional government gave its approval.

Historic building
The town hall building dates back to 1868 and over its history as a town hall has also housed the courts and a school and as well as having an alter installed for hearing mass. The present facade dates from 1959.

Marbella urges foreign residents to join the censu

By David Eade
Marbella is to start a campaign in January to encourage foreign residents living in the municipality to register themselves on the town hall’s census, known as the padrón. The councillor for tourism, José Luis Hernández, stated that the administration’s aim is to double the number of foreign residents registered, or empadronado, over the next 12 months.

Currently there are 36,037 foreign residents officially enrolled at the town hall, representing only 27 per cent of the total. Sr Hernández said this is in marked difference with neighbouring municipalities such as Mijas and Fuengirola, where the foreigners account for 40 per cent of registered residents.

The objective of the campaign is to inform non-Spanish residents of the ways the municipality will benefit by having a higher official population figure. Sr Hernández pointed out that the number of National Police officers and ambulances assigned to Marbella depend on its registered population, as do other apportionments from the central and regional governments. There are also fiscal advantages enjoyed by registered residents, he said.

Going, going - almost gone

Marbella town hall finally to auction Jesús Gil's Rolls Royce

By David Eade
This story has travelled many kilometres but it appears that at long last Jesús Gil’s Rolls Royce is about to go to auction.
The car in question is a Silver Spur and was first registered in 1992. It was used by the now deceased former mayor of Marbella, Jesús Gil, in 1995 for major public events and for civic weddings that he officiated.
When Marisol Yagüe came to power, she announced in 2005 that the Rolls would go for auction as she considered it to be “an exaggerated ostentation.” She was driven instead in a BMW X5. The Silver Spur was at that time in a workshop in Madrid. Sra Yagüe said it was valued at 250,000 euros and that it needed to be sold before it deteriorated.
In August of this year, the current mayor, Ángeles Muñoz, again raised the subject of auctioning off the Rolls. It was now parked at the local police headquarters and an expert appraiser was brought in to place a price on the car. It is understood that the valuation was placed at 45,000 euros.

Price drop
It appears that the Silver Spur will finally go for auction with the town hall seeking 34,650 euros, more than 10,000 euros less than its valuation and more than 200,000 euros less than the value then-mayor Yagüe put on it in 2005. It is understood that the mayoral BMW valued at 25,514 euros will also be put up for sale. Current Mayor Muñoz has explained the lower sale price by saying that what is most important is not the money but rather the municipality’s need to be rid of this extravagant symbol of the Gil era.

Torrox tunnel reopens after three months of repair

By Dave Jamieson
The tunnel on the A-7 autovía between Torrox and Nerja is now fully open after several weeks of repair work. The eastbound tunnel was closed in September for emergency repairs costing 2.13 million euros.

The problem, discovered during the summer, was a movement of the ground on which the carriageway was built, attributed by the authorities to either a failure of the materials used or the presence of water under the surface. This produced a pronounced bump in the roadway, forcing authorities to impose a reduced speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour. During the three-month repair project, both east- and westbound traffic have been sharing the other of the two twin tunnels, which are over a kilometre in length.

Along with the Capistrano tunnel in Nerja, the Torrox tunnel is soon to undergo further upgrading. The Ministry of Development is behind the project, which will bring the tunnels up to required European security standards and will include the installation of automatic fire detection systems.

Torremolinos passes 168 million-euro budget

Mayor says it is bigger than the budgets of many capital cities

By Oliver McIntyre
The Torremolinos town council last week approved the 2008 municipal budget, which including municipal companies totals 168 million euros, up 12 per cent from the 2007 budget. The mayor, Pedro Fernández Montes, described the budget as “realistic, large, balanced … and progressive,” and boasted that it was “larger than those of many provincial capitals in Spain.” The budget was approved with the votes of his ruling Partido Popular over the nay votes of the opposition.
Personnel costs are set at 37.6 million euros, up eight percent from 2007, an increase partly explained by the planned addition of 34 new police officers to the local force next year, as well as the incorporation of 68 new employees who recently passed their hiring exams.

Parks budget up 87 per cent
The mayor also highlighted the other important budget items such as development and infrastructure, which at 22.5 million euros is up 11 per cent from 2007 and sanitation, budgeted at 13.1 million euros. Parks and gardens, earmarked for 5.2 million euros, is up a whopping 87 per cent from 2007 due to new projects and increased maintenance costs for the town’s growing number of parks, most notably the new 70,000-square-metre Parque de la Batería.
Other major items include spending on culture (2.5 million euros), improvements to street-lighting (2.2 million euros), social services (8.6 million euros), and sports (3.3 million euros).

Plea for public help as palm tree beetles return

Many private trees to be destroyed in latest Nerja outbreak

By Dave Jamieson
Nerja is calling for the public’s assistance in the battle against the tree-killing red palm beetle. The councillor for parks and gardens said last week that a new surge of infestation is underway and some 40 palm trees in the area will have to be felled.

Towns east of Málaga have been struggling with the pest for more than a decade, and in November 2004 the Junta de Andalucía said that the insect, rhynchophorus ferrigineus, had been detected in eight Andalucían municipalities including Nerja, Frigiliana, Torrox and Vélez-Málaga, as well as in Almuñécar, Salobreña, Motril and Molvízar in Granada. A year later, a rapid westward spread took the beetles to western towns including Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola.
Nerja has around 3,000 palm trees and since the beetle was first seen locally in 1998, several dozen have had to be destroyed. However, councillor Jonathan Méndez said last week that a serious reappearance of the beetle has been seen locally since October and there are now around 40 trees which will have to be destroyed, most of them on private land. The town hall has contracted two gardeners who work exclusively on the project, but they cannot enter private gardens without authority, posing a problem with trees in gardens of holiday homes which lie empty for long periods.

Sr Méndez called on the public to help by advising the town hall of any palms which may be infected, and asked communities which have their own gardeners to ensure that fumigation takes place. He added that help would be available to anyone who requested it.

Palm beetle history
Originating in southern Asia and Melanesia, where it is a serious pest of coconuts, the beetle has been advancing west since the first insects were recorded in the northern United Arab Emirates in 1985. In Spain, they first appeared in 1990 with the first victim recorded in Almuñécar. Damage to palms is produced mainly by the larvae feeding on the soft fibres and terminal bud tissues. Usually the damage is only visible long after infection and by the time the first symptoms of the attack appear, they are so serious that they generally result in the death of the tree.

Satellite snags 5,627 unregistered buildings

The pioneering system is now to be extended to other Costa towns

By Oliver McIntyre
Officials are using a high-tech ‘eye in the sky’ to root out unregistered buildings and land-use changes in Coín. The provincial government has launched a pioneering programme in the town, using satellite images to compare the landscape over several years in order to detect the appearance of structures or land-use changes that are not reflected in the property register, meaning the town hall may not be receiving the appropriate taxes.
Using the satellite images of the town’s urban centre and outlying urbanisations and rural zones, officials have identified 5,627 structures that are not reflected in the property register. The majority of the unregistered buildings, 69 per cent of which existed prior to 2002, are in the countryside and the El Rodeo, Cortijo Benítez, Miravalle and Las Delicias districts.
Comparing images taken in 2002 and 2006, officials discovered 2.676 land-use changes.
The next step is to check municipal records to see if the appropriate taxes have been paid for the unregistered structures or land uses. Provincial government officials say the scheme is to be extended to other towns in the province.

Coín challenges Alhaurín development
Meanwhile, the Coín council has decided to file a legal challenge against Alhaurín el Grande town hall’s plans for a 1,500-home development in the Barranco Blanco zone, which sits next to the border between the two towns. Among the reasons cited are Alhaurín’s failure to consult as required with the neighbouring town hall; the lack of an environmental impact study; and the plan for a road from the proposed development that would enter Coín and cross the EU-protected Río Alaminos.

High hopes for British tourism arrivals

UK visitors are crucial to Andalucia’s tourism industry

By Oliver McIntyre

, and in particular Andalucía, has high hopes for the recent rebound in British tourist arrivals to continue into next year, and officials are planning to invest millions of euros to help ensure it happens.

At London’s recent World Tourism Fair and surrounding events, political and tourism chiefs cited past figures, current strategies and projections for next year. Manuel Chaves, the regional president of Andalucía, along with his tourism chief Sergio Moreno, cited growth in the number of British tourists to the region in recent months and said they expected a four per cent increase in 2008.

The Brits are a crucial factor to Andalucía’s tourism, making up 30 per cent of all foreign visitors to the region. Nineteen per cent of all Britons who travel to Spain visit Andalucía, which received 3.12 million UK visitors last year.

To sustain the recent growth trend and achieve the visitation targets for next year, the Junta de Andalucía is putting its money where its mouth is. The promotional budget in the UK is to be boosted by a third, jumping to eight million euros from this year’s six million euros.

Highest per capita spending
Spain as a whole is the most popular travel destination for Britons but excellent growth seen between the years 2000 and 2003 largely stagnated for the three following years. In 2000, 13.2 million Britons visited the country, jumping to around 16.1 million by 2003. Since then, the figure has failed to break the 16.2 million mark, according to data from the Spanish Tourism Office in London.
Officials say British tourists are a juicy market given that the UK is one of the countries with the highest per capita spending on travel, at 1,037 euros a year, according to the World Tourism Organisation. And they tend to travel in Europe – nearly 80 per cent of British travellers choose destinations on the Continent while around seven per cent go to North America and 13 per cent travel elsewhere in the world, according to the Spanish Tourism Office.

Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof at Málaga event

Forum highlights the role of the citizen in a knowledge society

By Dave Jamieson

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan was the principal guest at Encode, the second Knowledge Society and Citizenship Event, held in Málaga last week. For two days, delegates debated the society we live in with the citizen as the focal point. An interactive exhibition highlighted sustainability, co-operation and technology and Bob Geldof participated in a session, while Carlinhos Brown and Chambao headlined a benefit concert for UNICEF.

Encode is an initiative of Andalucía’s Ministry for Innovation, Science and Business and is sponsored by RETA, the regional technology network. It was created last year as a think-tank where recognised experts could debate and consider the future social, political, and economic scenarios to guide the construction of a knowledge society, based on sustainability. Speakers at the 2006 event included two Nobel peace laureates, Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Annan address
In his address last Thursday, Kofi Annan stressed the need to raise awareness of the importance of cooperation between public organizations and the private sector for sustainable development and the creation of a just society based on knowledge. In a wide-ranging speech, the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner touched on Iraq, the conflict between liberty and security, the Middle East and climate change. He also evaluated threats including global warming, poverty, infectious diseases, organised crime and the violation of human rights. Mr Annan, now president of the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, also warned that 200 million people living in coastal areas were under threat from rising sea levels or from deserts, which are expanding by six kilometres every year.

The organiser of Live Aid, Bob Geldof, participated in a session on innovation for human and global development. Also present was 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan who has spent much of her life promoting indigenous rights in her country, who tackled the question of ending world poverty by raising public awareness.

Spain finally backs Galileo navigation system

By David Eade

The European Union has backed the Galileo navigation system after Spain had earlier blocked agreement on the project. The Spanish delegation put its foot down on Thursday but by the next day the EU had amended its plans and the agreement of all nations was reached.

Spain wanted to be a key player in the project, demanding that its tracking station should have equal status with those to be located in Germany and Italy. The EU changed its plans so that the stations will operate as a single network and hence Spain gave the go-ahead to the long-delayed project.

The 30-satellite Galileo network is seen as Europe’s answer to the US’s widely used GPS system. The project is running five years behind schedule, with just one test satellite in orbit. EU Transport Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, had given the 27 member states until the end of the year to reach an agreement or risk the project being abandoned.

European finance ministers earlier paved the way for agreement on Galileo's future by striking a deal over its funding. They agreed to fill a 2.4 billion-euro shortfall with money from the EU’s 2007 and 2008 budgets. Two-thirds of the required sum will come from unspent farm aid and the rest will be drawn from funds earmarked for research next year.

However, the Galileo project is still under threat. The US military is said to be working on powerful updates to its GPS satellite system to try to ground Galileo before it even gets in to orbit.

Illegal property demolished in El Palmar

By David Eade
A house that was built illegally at the beginning of this decade in El Palmar was demolished last Wednesday. The illegal construction had been reported by inspectors from the regional government’s Public Works Department in 2003.
Back in February a demolition order was issued on the house and its adjoining porch. Despite constant warning letters over recent weeks stating that the house was about to be demolished, the owner had not removed his furniture when the demolition crew arrived.

Angry local residents gathered to watch the building being knocked down. They insisted the council and the regional government could have legalised the property under the future local development plan (PGOU).

The house was not the only property to come under the attention of the demolition teams. A wooden pizzeria on the first line of El Pico de La Ola beach was also taken down.

More to come
The Andalucía authority says these are just the first steps in regularising the chaotic illegal building situation that has developed in Vejer since the 1980s.