News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week 10th January - 16th January 2008
WHERE IS SHE?
AUTHORITIES and local residents continue to search for 15-year-old Amy Fitzpatrick, the Irish girl who disappeared on the night of January 1 while walking home from a friend’s house in Mijas. See full story on page three.
A RISING START
Electricity, gas, telephone, tolls and public transport price hike
By Tom Cain
AS 2008 got underway electricity, butane gas, transport and telephone charges were all hiked up.
These charges were in addition to increases in natural gas and rail travel increases announced during December.
Consumers now face a 3.3 per cent rise on their electricity bills as well as an increase on the hire of their electric meters.
This follows the 4.7 per cent hike in natural gas tariffs announced at the end of December and a 5.2 per cent increase in the cost of a butane gas bottle which has gone from 12.29 euros to 12.94 euros.
Telefónica, not to be left out, also announced an increase in its charges. As from January 1, the cost of national calls jumped 2.7 per cent and the line rental charge increased by two per cent taking it up to 13.97 euros.
Postal charges will also rise by 2.89 per cent as will the cost of public transport with rail operator Renfe putting its charges up by four per cent.
Unions representing millions of workers claim that the rises are far higher than any cost of living wage increases their members may get.
They say that although the government sets the increase each year many employers ignore it thereby leaving employees to suffer the extra costs.
TOLL ROAD CHARGES TO INCREASE
The cost of using toll roads throughout Spain rose by 2.53 per cent from January 1.
A government spokesman said that this was the lowest increase since 2005 when charges that year rose by 2.93 per cent. He added that in 2006 and 2007 the tolls were raised by 3.5 and 3.68 per cent respectively.
The rises fall in line with current inflation rates and reflect the amount of traffic using the various toll roads throughout the country.
Although official figures have not yet been released by the National Statistics Institute (INE), reliable independent figures say inflation reached 4.3 per cent by December 31.
If confirmed by INE on January 15, this would be the highest annual inflation rate in Spain since 1995.
Search continues for missing Mijas teen
The family is appealing to the local community to come forward with information
By Oliver McIntyre
AUTHORITIES and local residents continue to search for 15-year-old Amy Fitzpatrick, the Irish girl who disappeared on the night of January 1 while walking home from a friend’s house in Mijas.
Since her family reported her disappearance on January 3, searches of the local area using police sniffer dogs as well as a helicopter have so far turned up no clues as to what has happened to her.
The teenager was last seen at around 10pm on New Year’s Day when she left her friend’s house, where she had been babysitting. She set out to walk from the house, in the Calypso urbanisation, to her family’s home in Riviera del Sol, about a 15-minute walk using a common shortcut along a poorly lit track through open wasteland.
Amy Fitzpatrick has dark, shoulder-length hair and at the time she disappeared was wearing a black jacket, dark sweatpants, a black Diesel T-shirt with coloured lettering on and black furry boots. She was carrying a Bershka bag.
In an emotional plea at the weekend, Amy’s mother Audrey and other family members called on the local British and Spanish communities to help locate the missing girl, who the mother said she feared may be being held against her will. “We just want Amy back,” she said. At the same time, she appealed to Amy herself: “If you’ve decided to run away, then please come back. Your brother Dean misses you, we love you very much. Please, please come home. You’re not in any trouble.”
The Independent Guardia Civil Association (ASIGC) says that all leads and possible explanations for the disappearance are being considered and that the recent movements of several British sex offenders known to live on the Costa del Sol are being reviewed.
The family is distributing missing-person posters with photographs of Amy and has asked that anyone with any information please contact the authorities on 062 or the family on 686 044 181.
Three Kings theft threatens Nerja procession
By Dave Jamieson
The Three Kings’ annual visit to Nerja was put under threat when thieves stole a large quantity of material used to prepare their floats. An electric generator worth 1,500 euros, fabric and paint for decoration, two wooden benches and a quantity of fireworks disappeared early last week from the store where the work was being carried out. Police say entry was not forced and the thieves must have needed a van or lorry to take away the haul.
The man responsible for preparing the floats for last Saturday evening’s ‘Los Reyes’ procession was highly critical of the thieves’ action. After three months’ work, Francisco Haro said it was not so much the economic loss which bothered him as the lack of respect shown to the people of Nerja. With the materials vanishing on Monday of last week, Sr Haro surmised that someone wanted to hold a “great New Year’s Eve party in some country farmhouse.”
However, with help from students at the town’s municipal workshop, the damage was repaired and the Kings were able to process through the town on schedule.
Boyfriend jailed after British woman stabbed
Aunt has come from UK to take custody of victim’s 11-year-old daughter
By Oliver McIntyre
A 42-year-old West Sussex woman, Deborah H., was stabbed to death last Friday in her Coín home, allegedly by her 59-year-old German boyfriend, who has been arrested and ordered to jail pending trial for murder.
The Guardia Civil was alerted to the crime by Interpol after the accused, Jimmie W., allegedly called the victim’s parents in England and told them what he had done. Officers arrived at the couple’s house in the Miralmonte urbanisation in the early morning hours of Friday and found the woman’s 11-year-old daughter inside the home and the victim dead on the bed in the master bedroom. She is understood to have had a single stab wound to the chest.
Using a mobile phone number given to them by the daughter, officers called the man and convinced him to return to the home and turn himself in.
It is understood that the couple had been celebrating the victim’s birthday on the night of the incident.
Neighbours in the Miralmonte urbanisation, located several kilometres outside of town on the road toward Alhaurín el Grande, indicated the couple had been living there for around three years.
The woman’s sister immediately flew to the Costa to take custody of the 11-year-old girl and return with her to the UK.
First domestic violence death
If it is confirmed that the boyfriend was the killer, the British woman was the first fatal victim of domestic violence this year in Spain, where last year 71 women were killed at the hands of a current or former partner. Just two days later, on Sunday, the second apparent domestic violence murder of 2008 took place in Torrevieja, Alicante, where a 30-year-old Russian woman was allegedly killed by her Ukrainian boyfriend.
Hotels pay the price of a weak dollar
US and Canadian tourists are important part of off-season market
By Oliver McIntyre
The weakness of both the American and Canadian dollars against the euro is costing Costa hotels during the low season as North American tourists avoid European destinations because of the extra cost. Tourism sector officials estimate a drop-off of some 80 per cent in low-season arrivals from North America over the last three years.
While American and Canadian tourists make up only a small portion of year-round arrivals on the Costa, they typically represent a significant percentage of off-season customers at the area’s four- and five-star hotels, according to the tourism department of the Andalucía Business Confederation (CEA). North American tourists can make up as much as 25 per cent of the clientele in the Costa’s luxury hotels during the winter months.
Americans and Canadians are particularly attractive to the tourism industry as they tend to stay longer than other tourists – at least a week, generally – and to spend more and partake in more side excursions and activities.
The CEA estimates that November and December occupancy rates at Costa hotels were down six to seven per cent.
The tourism sector is hopeful that the introduction of direct flights to Málaga from New York and Montreal will help lure Americans and Canadians back to the Costa. Air Transat has already begun offering a non-stop flight from Montreal to Málaga and Delta is launching a regular New York-Málaga flight in June, with prices starting at around 550 euros.
Marbella set to legalise around 1,000 businesses
By David Eade
Marbella town hall is set to take action to legalise around 1,000 businesses located in buildings that are currently considered illegal. The businesses have until now been unable to obtain official opening licences. The town hall action will be taken ahead of the implementation of the new local development plan (PGOU), under which the properties involved will be deemed legal.
The legal committee at the town hall has decided to take this measure although it has not ruled out other remedies. It says it realises that the municipality is faced with a complex and difficult-to-correct situation.
The plan will be presented for approval at the next council meeting. The administration hopes it will help revitalise the small business sector in Marbella, which has been in a severe state of crisis for the past three years.
The mayor, Ángeles Muñoz, has held a meeting with representatives of Apymen, the association of the small and medium-size businesses in the municipality.
During the meeting, the president of Apymen, Antonio Núñez, called for a moratorium on the installation of large commercial centres in the town and also on the expansion of existing ones. Apymen lays the key blame for the problems faced by its members on the growth of these large shopping parks in Marbella.
Muñoz moved back to Alhaurín prison
Marisol Yagüe, another former Marbella mayor, also faces legal troubles
By David Eade
Former Marbella mayor Julián Muñoz has been transferred back to the Alhaurín de la Torre prison form the prison in Jaén where he had been moved last year. The transfer was ordered by the Director General of the prison service although the reason is not known.
Sr Muñoz was first imprisoned in July 2006 as part of the ongoing ‘Malaya’ investigation into alleged corruption at Marbella town hall. The new judge in the case has agreed to his release on 50,000 euros bail and that money has been paid over by his family, but Sr Muñoz has remained in jail as he is also serving sentences for several town planning convictions relating to his time as a right-hand man to his predecessor as mayor, Jesús Gil, as well as from his own term as mayor.
It had been suggested before Christmas that Muñoz might be freed over the festive season after having his prisoner classification reduced. This proved not to be the case and it is not known whether his move to Alhaurín is permanent or temporary.
Yagüe’s house valued at 2.1 million euros
Another former mayor of Marbella facing legal troubles is Marisol Yagüe. She was held in prison in the Malaya case and will stand as a defendant once the case goes to trial.
Right now she faces a battle to keep her home. The court has ruled that she owes the construction company Copasu 1.2 million euros for improvements it carried out and she refused to pay for. Now an assessor appointed by the court has valued her property at 2,155,091 euros. It remains to be seen whether Copasur will force a sale collect its debt or whether Sra Yagüe will find another way to pay.
Future five star hotel faces halt-work threat
The 120-million project is expected to become local tourism flagship
By Oliver McIntyre
TORREMOLINOS’S first five-star accommodation, the future Hotel Cruiser currently under construction on the site of the old Hotel Meliá, faces the threat of a halt-work order that could put in jeopardy its 2010 target inauguration. It was revealed last week that the Junta de Andalucía’s Public Works Department has filed a challenge against the construction licence issued by the town hall, saying that elements of the project do not comply with the town’s local development plan (PGOU).
In November Public Works requested that the town hall modify the construction licence to bring it into compliance, but having received no response it has now filed the challenge, which will be ruled on by the department’s Housing and Development Inspection Unit. There has been no indication of when the ruling is expected.
Another blow to the town’s PP-led council
The mayor of Torremolinos, Pedro Fernández Montes (Partido Popular), had recently accused the socialist PSOE-led Junta de Andalucía of partisan politics in its blocking of several other important residential and commercial development projects in the town (CDSN, January 3-9).
The mayor laid the ceremonial first brick of the Hotel Cruiser Tres Carabeles in August, hailing it as “the most important tourism industry undertaking in recent decades.” The 120 million-euro, 449-room luxury hotel, with its V-shaped jutting-prow design suggesting the bow of cruise liner, is expected to become the flagship of the local tourism sector. The hotel is to feature two rectangular buildings flanking out from a 15-storey circular tower topped by a helicopter landing pad for VIP arrivals.
New Flame heads agenda for next tripartite talks
Work to clean up oil and waste from wrecked cargo ship still continues
By David Eade
Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, has stated that maritime safety will be at the top of the agenda when Britain, Spain and Gibraltar hold the next round of talks under the Tripartite process. He has promised that the situation surrounding the New Flame, which ran aground off Europa Point in August of last year after colliding with a tanker, and the security of shipping in the bay zone will be key topics. No date has yet been set for the tripartite meeting.
The Gibraltar government has stated that from the middle of this month a new salvage operation will be undertaken on the cargo vessel New Flame. It will be carried out by one of the leaders in the field, Titan Maritime, after previous efforts by a Greek salvage company were abandoned due to cost and technical problems.
Sr Moratinos has defended the Spanish government’s record over the New Flame, claiming it had taken the necessary steps to protect the environment and was taking a keen interest in the matter. The Ministry of the Environment is maintaining a surveillance operation in the bay and 10 specially trained technicians are on standby to deal with any pollution threat.
To date 217 tonnes of oil and other waste said to be from the New Flame has been washed up on beaches in Algeciras. The ongoing work to clear up this residue from the wreck has now been hampered by bad weather conditions. The latest arrival on the shoreline has been a large amount of ash, thought the Gibraltar government says it doubts this debris is from the semi-submerged vessel. However, it says that if scientific tests prove that it is, then it will pay for the clean-up operation. Although ecologists lay the blame at Gibraltar’s door, an Algeciras councillor has been quoted as saying the oil is not from the New Flame.
Gift-giving Kings make special visits in Alhaurín
By Oliver McIntyre
The Three Kings, or Los Reyes, who in Spain play the Christmas gift-giving role played by Father Christmas in the UK, paid some special visits – whether literally or figuratively – in Alhaurín de la Torre last week.
On Thursday a group of local women’s associations, in collaboration with the town hall, played Los Reyes to the children of female inmates at the Alhaurín prison. At a ceremony held in the town hall building, the associations presented the prison director with 30 new or nearly new toys to be distributed to the prisoners’ children. It was the third year running that the associations have collected toys for the children of the female inmates, a programme aimed at ensuring that the youngsters do not feel left out at the holidays.
Also on Thursday, Los Reyes themselves visited the annual Christmas party for the town’s elderly residents and pensioners. They handed out gifts – everything from dolls to nativity scenes to radio-controlled cars – to each and every one of the nearly 400 old-timers and retirees who attended the town hall-organised event.
‘Millionaire’ for a day
And on Friday a local worker got one of the biggest Reyes gifts of the season – a 6,000-euro shopping spree, courtesy of the ADICAT business association and its participating businesses. Twenty-four-year-old Jesús Martín Roldán, a lorry driver for the Hormisur concrete plant, won ADICAT’s ‘Millionaire for a Day’ Christmas draw (6,000 euros is the equivalent of a million of Spain’s beloved old pesetas). He and a group of family and friends were chauffeured around town in a minibus, starting at the petrol station where he’d submitted his winning raffle ticket after filling up his truck, and making stops at dozens of local stores and shops to pick up all the items on his wish list.
A Diamond Occasion
Couple celebrate 60 years of marriage with Nerja holiday
By John Peatey
WHEN Doris Day, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald were all household names in the 1940’s there was only one name on Dot Simms’s mind, and that was Eric Brookes.
A dream came true in 1945 in The Old Harborne Cinema in Birmingham when Eric, still on active service in the Army at the time, asked Dot if she would ‘go out’ with him, and three years later the couple were married on the third of January 1948.
“I didn’t mind him asking me out,” Dot told me, tongue firmly in cheek. “The film had finished and I wasn’t too bothered about seeing a second showing!”
Sixty years later and the couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary with family and friends in fine style at Bar Uno, Nerja.
“It’s a bit different to our wedding day” said Eric. “Then all everyone had to pool their rationing coupons just so that we could have a cake made and lay on a bit to eat.”
That day in Nerja, where the couple were holidaying for a few weeks, was full of surprises starting off with Eric presenting Dot with a beautiful diamond ring to commemorate the occasion. Next the couple were given the documents showing ownership of their very own star, named after them and situated in the Milky Way. “That’s apt” quipped Dot, “With his sweet tooth.”
Best kept secret
But perhaps the best kept secret of the day was then handed to the couple by their proud daughter Linda, who had arranged for a telegram from the Queen to be sent to Nerja in time for the party.
So what is the secret to 60 years of happy marriage?
“Say, every day, no matter what, that you love each other” Eric told me, “And a drop or two of Stone’s ginger wine doesn’t go amiss every now and then either” added Dot.
Lowest traffic death rate in 40 year
Road fatalities dropped by 10 per cent in 2007
By Oliver McIntyre
Spanish roads are the safest they have been in 40 years, according to year-end government traffic death statistics released last week. In 2007, 2,741 people died on the country’s roads, a nearly 10 per cent drop from 2006. The last time the annul traffic death toll was below 3,000 was in 1967, according to figures quoted by the minister of the interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
It marked the fourth consecutive year of dropping death rates on Spanish roads. The sharp drop in 2007 came after the introduction of the new points-system driver’s licence in July 2006 and a change to the penal code in December 2007 that made some serious traffic offences, such as drink driving and excessive speeding, punishable by prison sentences.
While officials acknowledged that the traffic death toll is still high and must be further reduced, they were clearly pleased with the dramatic drop to levels not seen in four decades. Further, they pointed out that during that period the number vehicles on the road has increased eightfold, from 3.5 million in 1968 to today’s nearly 30 million.
In Málaga province there were 69 traffic deaths in 2007, down from 89 in 2006, a drop of 22 per cent. The last time the death toll on the province’s roads was at a similar level was in 1977, when there were 65 fatalities. The following year, the figure jumped to 90, and until last year it hovered around that level, peaking in 2003, when there were 105 deaths.
Not all Andalucían provinces fared so well in 2007. In Jaén, the number of traffic deaths increased by 10.5 per cent, while Sevilla and Córdoba saw increases of 5.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively.
San Roque fastest growing municipality
Latest INE figures show population statistics changes for the province
By David Eade
SAN ROQUE councillor, Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix, who is in charge of the municipality’s finances, has expressed his delight at the latest population figures issued by the National Institute of Statistics. It puts San Roque’s population at 27,635, a growth of 1,066 people. In percentage terms this means the municipality has grown by four per cent. This is the largest growth in Cádiz province with Chiclana on 2.6 per cent in second place.
Sr Ruiz Boix stated: “San Roque is a good place to live and I think a large part of this has to be attributed to the good management of the municipality.” The councillor added that there were still many people living in San Roque who had not enrolled with the town hall so the actual number of residents was probably over 30,000.
The population of the Bay of Cádiz increased by more than 55,000 during the past decade, despite the steady depopulation of Cádiz city. Most of the growth has been in Jerez (which is included in the Bay of Cádiz for administrative purposes), Chiclana, San Fernando and El Puerto. Their combined populations have increased in the past ten years by 9.3 per cent.
Population drops in ten towns
In the Sierra de Cádiz the opposite has been the case. The 19 villages and towns in this area have seen a combined growth of barely 1.6 per cent. This is fewer than 2,000 new residents and is mainly due to the increased population in Arcos de la Frontera. Ten municipalities have shown a decrease with Ubrique and Olvera being the worst affected but Algar, Benaocaz, El Gastor, Grazalema, Setenil, Torre Alháquime, Zahara de la Sierra and Villaluenga del Rosario are all on the decline.