Costa del Sol News - 14th February 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week 14th February - 20th Feburary 2008

A DOG'S LIFE INDEED!

Enthusiastic pupils of the Mets Dog Training course line their owners up for a well-earned break and photo call before getting them back to work.


EXPAT PENSIONERS HIT BY WEAK POUND

Possible link between drug haul and Estepona shooting of Irish gangster Paddy Doyle

By Oliver McIntyre

Low exchange rate affects Costa residents and holidaymakers

By James Parkes and Sarah Wilkinson

CONCERN is increasing among residents on UK state pensions who are effectively losing up to 20 per cent of their income because of the weakness of the pound against the euro.

The pound recently hit its lowest exchange rate against the euro since the single currency was launched and for those on fixed UK-based pensions it's a major issue.

One UK army pensioner living in on the coast told Costa del Sol News: “I was getting 1,200 euros for my pension last summer, now the exchange rate leaves me with just 970 euros.”

Expat pensioner Pam Parker, who has lived in Spain for 15 years said: “I know there is nothing we can do about the exchange rate but this is terrible for us.

“We are both well past working age – 75 and 80 – with no savings. Our pensions are all we have to live on and it was very difficult as it was. Now it will be a real struggle.”

The elderly couple have seen their pensions’ values drop 50 euros from December to January alone.

Another resident said: “We’re losing between 10 and 15 per cent per year at the moment, and that’s a very big problem for many people.”

The official exchange rate yesterday (Thursday) was of 1.33 euros to the pound, with the majority of ‘non-commission’ exchange bureaus changing at 1.31. In summer 2007 it was in the region of 1.50 euros.
Lower pensions due to exchange rate slumps add to the increase in the cost of living in Spain over the past 12 months and the 7.9 per cent rise in prices of basic products.

HOLIDAYMAKERS

The pound’s weakness is also having a detrimental effect on tourism.

Many UK holidaymakers are shunning the Costas because of current exchange rates and travel firms say it has prompted many to opt for countries that are not in the single currency.

Holidaymakers on the coast confirm the trend.

“We think it’s stopping people from booking holidays to Euro countries. We recently booked to go to Egypt in August and that holiday has worked out cheaper than being in Benalmádena, and we’ve only been here three days!” said Mr and Mrs Langley from Chester, who added: “Our friends back home are now choosing to go to Bulgaria and Croatia because you get more for your money.”
Exchange offices are obviously feeling British holidaymakers’ discontent.

Pedro Martínez from Eurochange told CDSN: “I would say that 100 per cent of people that walk into this shop moan about the exchange rate. When they are in the UK they see they can exchange for 1.25, and here its 1.30, so they think it’s not too bad. But they realise they’re not getting as much as they thought or used to get. What they don’t realise is that last summer the exchange rate was nearly 1.50.

“I have also noticed that cigarette sales have gone down a lot. Tourists aren’t packing their cases with cigarettes anymore because they end up losing out too much.”

Holidaymaker Mathew Morris from Barnsley agreed: “It’s the end of my fag runs! I reckon people who do fag and booze runs will think twice from now on.”


Bar brawl continues later at hospital

Several injured, including three security guards

By Oliver McIntyre

A fight between two groups of youths at a Torremolinos discotheque early Sunday morning was so heated that when several participants were taken to hospital, members of each group showed up there and the brawl broke out anew.

At least three people were injured in the original fight and taken by ambulance to Málaga’s Hospital Clínico. As members of the two groups began showing up to visit their respective friends, tensions rose and soon some 25 to 30 young were engaged in a major brawl inside the hospital’s entry hall. They went at each other with motorcycle locks, tools, a baseball bat and a golf club, according to reports from the hospital.

Several people were injured, including three security guards who were involved in trying to break up the fight. The guards finally pushed the battle outside the hospital doors, and the crowd dispersed when police sirens were heard arriving.

Pitched battle

Hospital staff members were shocked and frightened at the scale and violence of the fight. One reported that an injured participant of the brawl was taken into the emergency room but then jumped off his bed and ran back out to rejoin the fighting. “They would go back out to fight and then come back in with their heads split open,” one worker was quoted as saying.

Police complaints are being filed by the security company, which is a private firm contracted by the hospital to provide security guards.


Court dictates what toys father can give his kids

Judge also urges man to work harder and increase earnings

By Oliver McIntyre

THE PROVINCIAL court has told a divorced father that he may not have in his home the same toys his children have at their mother’s home, where they live. Playing with the same toys outside their principal home – they live with their mother except during weekend visits with their father – could be psychologically “disturbing” to the nine-year-old twins, said the court.

The father, who has chosen to remain anonymous, says the court has overstepped its bounds in ruling on issues beyond the law. In its findings the court also urged the man to work harder and increase his earnings “so that the children do not lose the level of comfort and economic status they had when their parents lived together.” The court says that because the man works for a family business he has the ability to do this if he chooses.

The court, which was hearing the man’s appeal against a lower court ruling on his divorce settlement, rejected his request for a joint custody arrangement, as well as his request that his child support payments to his ex-wife be reduced from 1,500 euros a month to 600 euros.

Acquitted of threatening behaviour

In August 2006 the man’s ex-wife accused him of threatening her at a local swimming pool, but he was acquitted, in part because two policemen who were at the scene corroborated his version of events. He has since filed charges against her for false accusation, and that case is in process.


Help save the Pinar del Rey

Angry protests over roads projects

By David Eade

The people the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar have started angry protests to stop two road projects in Pinar del Rey, a valuable environmental zone and recreational area used by thousands of people, especially at weekends.

The Ministry of Development is planning to build a new dual carriageway right through Pinar del Rey, which would cut the park into two and ruin the recreational area, say critics. The new trunk road would start near the Casino and the Cortijo La Doctora then bypass San Roque on its way to the Pinar. From this point it would head north of Estación de San Roque and by-pass Los Barrios.
In addition, the regional government is in the process of building a new two-lane Estación de San Roque-Taraguilla bypass, starting at junction 116 on the A-7 and coming out at the Los Timbales junction on the A-405 road to Castellar and Jimena.

Whilst the dual carriageway is still in the planning stages work has already started on the by-pass and has entailed chopping down a large amount of cork oak trees on both sides of the CA-9203 road, which leads to San Roque via the Pinar del Rey.

The Costa del Sol News spoke to a person involved in tourism in San Roque, who said: “On a personal level, I am dead against the first project and dismayed about the cork trees with regards to the second. There are alternatives, such as a route closer to the town.”

‘It is unthinkable’

Mary, a resident of the Pinar area, was horrified at the news: “I ignored the rumour a couple of years ago because I couldn't imagine them even contemplating destroying or even coming near it. El Pinar is an absolute gem for the people of the Campo area, and cleans the foul air coming from the industrial nightmare in the bay. The air actually tastes sweet in the early morning and the flora and fauna are so diverse – where else can you come across a toad crossing the road and 50 metres further on a barn owl just standing there blinking at you, or see moles, rabbits mongoose, woodpeckers, jays, crested tits, blue and yellow wagtails – it is unthinkable.”

The Pinar del Rey covers some 338 hectares outside San Roque. The pine forest was planted by the Spanish Navy in 1800.

Protest this weekend
A protest against the dual carriageway has been scheduled for 1pm this Sunday, February 17, at the entrance to Pinar Project. More information on the campaign against the roads is available on the Verdemar website at: http://www.ecologistasenaccion.org/campodegibraltar


Back to school for foreign parents in Nerja

By Dave Jamieson

Better integration of foreign families with their Spanish counterparts is the aim behind a project launched last week in Nerja. With up to a quarter of school pupils in the town coming from non-Spanish homes, the initiative seeks to help their parents understand the local culture in order to be more involved with their children’s schooling.
Supported by the Junta de Andalucía and coordinated by Nerja English teacher Pilar Medina, the project is introducing foreign mums and dads to the local Spanish parents’ associations. Pilar Jiménez, head of El Chaparil secondary school, where 25 per cent of pupils are from foreign families, commented that the idea helps to involve parents more with their children’s school.

Last Friday’s inaugural meeting of the group attracted about 20 parents from seven countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Morocco, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Spain. Under the name [email protected] [email protected], the group will meet teachers weekly, with translators provided, to discuss their children’s progress. The group, which is open to parents of foreign children at schools in Maro and Frigiliana as well as Nerja, is also organising Spanish language classes for foreign parents.

“It is essential that parents involve themselves in the education of their children,” said Pilar Medina.


Madrid calls in British Ambassador over oil spilla

Gibraltar has assumed “full responsibility”

By David Eade

SPAIN SUMMONED Britain’s ambassador in Madrid, Denise Holt, on Monday to meet the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Director for Europe and North America, Sr. José Pons, to voice its unease over the latest oil spillage from the New Flame.

The New Flame ran aground off Gibraltar’s Europa Point last August after a collision in the bay with a tanker. In Sunday’s bad weather the now half-sunk vessel slipped deeper beneath the waves. This resulted in what Gibraltar sources described as “small amounts of oily residue” from its tanks being wash up on the Algeciras’ beaches.

With Spain in full election mode both nationally and in Andalucía this oil escape also resulted in a major political fallout. The regional government has threatened legal action in the EU to recoup damages and cover the cost of the clean-up operations.

Spain has for weeks expressed concern both privately and publically about the progress of the operation to remove the wreck of the New Flame. The bulk of its fuel oil was removed soon after it ran aground but some still remains onboard. Now as oily debris and globs of heavy fuel oil appear on the bay’s beaches that concern is being voiced at full volume.

Spain’s foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, told the media that Gibraltar had assumed “full responsibility” and had promised to do everything possible to minimise any further impact. He added that Chief Minister Peter Caruana had phoned Bernardino León, the Spanish secretary of state at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to confirm the same.

Calls for border protests

Although the oil washed up in Algeciras, the Partido Popular mayor of La Línea, Juan Carlos Juárez, has talked of organising a protest at the border with Gibraltar. He stated that this is “not to eradicate the problem, because there is little that can be done at this stage, but to stop it happening again.”

On Monday clean-up operations continued in Algeciras. Around 55 operatives worked on the beach and the oil was cleared by midday but a watch is being kept to ensure no more comes ashore.


Nerja coastal walkway will not reopen

Coastal authority calls restoration of cliff-side path ‘unviable’

By Dave Jamieson

Nerja’s coastal footpath, Los Carabineros, will not reopen, at least in the short term. The future of the attractive walkway was one of a number of issues discussed at a meeting last week between the town’s councillor for beaches, Jonathan Méndez, and the head of the Environment Ministry’s coastal authority, José Fernández.

Sr Méndez said on Friday that the meeting had been held in a “good climate of understanding” but the ‘Costas’ director had said it was “unviable” to reopen the path which runs along the foot of the cliffs.
The Paseo de Los Carabineros links the Balcón de Europa in the town centre to Nerja’s biggest beach, Burriana, and gives access to several secluded coves along the way. However, after being closed six years ago following rock falls, it is now in a state of some dereliction while the danger of further falls remains.

As the only possible way of creating a safe walkway in the zone, the councillor said that an expansion of the beach area was under consideration, an option which would involve creating two semi-submerged reefs off the coast. This would be a costly project, he added, but one which the Ministry is studying.

Additional projects

Other subjects discussed in Madrid included the stabilisation of Torrecilla beach to prevent sand being washed away every time there is severe weather. “We want a stable solution,” said Sr Méndez. “We cannot be importing sand every year.” However, he indicated that the ministry was unhappy with the much-discussed proposal to install reefs here as well. On a more positive front, the ministry did promise to make improvements to Maro beach, he said. This would include upgrades to the landscaping, parking and the access road.


Alarm over plans for major Alhaurín development

Town hall says POT plan could create subsidised-housing ‘ghetto’

By Oliver McIntyre

All of the political groups at Alhaurín de la Torre town hall have joined together to fight against plans for a huge development that local officials say is raising “considerable public alarm.”

The regional development plan (POT) for the Málaga metropolitan area calls for the construction of 7,200 new homes in the Piamonte zone, between El Romeral and Arroyo del Valle. Sixty per cent – or 4,300 homes – would be subsidised-housing units aimed at lower-income families.

Town hall officials say they are not against the subsidised housing – some of which they say is to meet overflow demand from Málaga city – but they believe it is a mistake to concentrate so much of it in one area. Doing so could cause “problems with integration,” potentially creating a subsidised-housing ‘ghetto’ like Sevilla’s notorious Las 3,000 Viviendas neighbourhood, they say.

Local officials say the huge development, located outside of the main urban centre of the town, would practically double the town’s population. Its multi-storey apartment blocks would not fit in with the town’s existing development style.

Signature collection

The town hall has been holding meetings with concerned residents – some 500 turned out for a recent gathering in El Romeral and another 250 in La Alquería – and is collecting signatures and public comments against the inclusion of the development in the POT. It will submit them to the Junta de Andalucía before the POT’s public-comment deadline on February 20. It will also submit resident comments and signatures against the POT proposal for the La Alquería zone to be classified as protected non-building land.


Threat to boycott Ronda's businesses

Neighbouring towns are up in arms over non-resident charge hike

By David Eade

Fifteen socialist-led town halls in the Valle de Genal area are threatening to urge residents to boycott shops and businesses in Ronda. Instead the public are being asked to spend their money in major commercial centres on the Costa del Sol.

This unprecedented move has come about because of a Ronda council decision last December to charge non-Ronda residents extra for using its sports facilities. This was one of a series of measures that saw local charges and taxes rise in order to boost the town’s cash-strapped coffers.

However the move has caused outrage in the smaller neighbouring towns in the region who rely on Ronda’s recreational and shopping facilities. Their town councils view the increase in charges as clearly discriminatory. The nearby villages of Pujerra, Faraján and Igualeja are now leading the move to voice their protests and say that a shopping boycott could be just one answer.

Ronda to boost small businesses

Meanwhile the Ronda town council has said it is to create a foundation to promote the development of these very same small businesses in the town centre. This project is being worked on by a committee made up of both the public and private representatives.
The proposal has received the support of the ruling Partido Popular and Partido Andalucista coalition as well as the left-wing Izquierda Unida party. However the socialist PSOE spokesperson, Francisco Cañestro, refused to back the plan immediately saying that first he wanted to study it with fellow party members.

It is expected that PSOE will back the initiative and Cañestro said the party supports all efforts that seek to help the town’s small businesses.

This week the proposal should be placed before the council for approval and if successful the statutes of the foundation will be duly published in the official provincial bulletin (BOP) before being implemented.

An open commercial centre scheme is already up and running in the main shopping area in and around Calle Espinel and this is one of the schemes that is expected to be further developed once the foundation is underway.


Home owners band together as Junta gets tough

By Dave Jamieson

RESIDENTS IN the Axarquía have formed a pressure group to save their homes. The move follows an attempt by the Junta de Andalucía to revoke construction licences issued by various town halls up to ten years ago.

Properties in Benamargosa, Riogordo, Canillas de Aceituno, Alcaucín and La Viñuela are reported to be affected by the ruling issued from the Junta’s public works department, and the majority are owned by foreign residents.

Understandably, those affected are concerned for their futures and, last Wednesday, around 150 of them met to form a pressure group. Under the name Save Our Homes Axarquía (SOHA), the new association says it will face the threat on a united front. The group’s chairman, Phil Smalley, told CDSN, “The holders of the licences know that they have done everything correctly. They obtained the necessary building licences and paid the taxes. However, in the last year, the Junta decided to challenge the licences. SOHA’s object is to open up dialogue with the town halls and the Junta to see how we can resolve the problem to the benefit of all.”

The mayor of Alcaucín, José Manuel Martín, confirmed that in his municipality 20 licences, issued between 1997 and 2002, had been targeted by the regional government. He said that in many cases this was because the maximum plot size permitted had been exceeded and, in his opinion, the only solution would be to regularise these constructions in the town’s new local development plan (PGOU).


Gibraltar plays host to 19 Squadron

North Wales flyers to practice combat skills over Med

By David Eade

Monday saw the arrival at RAF Gibraltar of five Hawk aircraft of 19 Squadron. They are based at RAF Valley in North Wales and are staying on the Rock for two weeks.

During the visit the pilots will practice their skills in air-to-air combat in the training areas over the Mediterranean Sea. They will be taking off in a group at 9.00, 12.00 and 15.00 in sorties that will last about an hour. Needless to say, when they are taking off and landing the traffic in and out of Gibraltar will be halted, which could cause some delays.

The squadron was in Gibraltar last year when poor weather in the UK curtailed their training operations. Flight Lieutenant Ade Lutman, the Officer Commanding Operations at RAF Gibraltar, said: “The Squadron was so impressed with the support they received from Gibraltar that they immediately asked if they could repeat the exercise.”

19 Squadron history

The squadron has its origins as far back as 1915. Around a year later it went to France, flying contact patrols with BE12s before re-equipping with French-built Spads. These were used to strafe ground troops during the battles at Arras, Messines Ridge and Ypres. Early in 1918, Sopwith Dolphins arrived and these were used in bomber escort duties. During World War Two the squadron was part of Fighter Command and flew the famous Spitfires.


Foreign businesses fail due to poor preparation

University study looks at Brit and German entrepreneurs in Spain

By Dave Jamieson

An appreciable number of foreign businesses fail in Spain because of inadequate preparation, according to a new report just published. The study also highlights the vulnerability of newcomers to fraudsters from their home countries.

The study is by two researchers from the University of Portsmouth Business School who interviewed British and German expatriates in Málaga and Mallorca. Laura Wilson-Edwardes and Dr Andreas Hoecht concluded that, while thousands decide to leave the UK for the better climate in Spain, the risks and impact of failure are significant, with many losing their money and their homes.

In one extreme case, they came across a family living in a rented caravan because they were too embarrassed to admit their situation to their family back home. The parents had owned a hotel in Britain but their Spanish dream had gone horribly wrong with the entire family, including children who should have been in school, forced to work as cleaners.

The researchers say a proportion of new British entrepreneurs in Spain fail to do their homework so they are not, for example, sufficiently aware that Spanish employment laws and business regulations are quite different from the UK. Fluent Spanish in such individuals is rare. On the other hand, the report acknowledges, some are well prepared with extensive professional experience at home before relocating, a good level of knowledge about their destination country, including appropriate language skills, and most arrive with sufficient capital resources. 

Newcomers are fraud targets

The report also reveals that fraud is common within British and German expatriate communities in Spain and most victims are new arrivals who make easy targets for their fellow nationals. Bars and restaurants can be sold to unsuspecting newcomers who fail to spot that the accounts are false, while placing fake customers at tables, paid to make the business appear thriving to prospective buyers, was also reported as a common trick. The study concluded that too much trust is placed too quickly in strangers just because they come from the same country. It says that those arriving in Spain, cash-rich from the sale of properties in their home country, should be alert to the possibility of conmen who are quick to befriend and then defraud.

The study also gives some policy recommendations for governments. For the UK, the researchers suggest that the government should consider placing more emphasis on understanding and calculating business risks.


Size standards for Spanish women's clothing

NEWS Staff Reporter

Help is on the way for women who have trouble finding clothes which fit. Because there is no industry standard in place at present, some people find they have to buy one size in one shop and a different size in another shop.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Health published the results of a five-month study with recommendations which could make Spain the first country to establish standard clothing sizes.

More than 10,000 women aged 12 to 70 in 59 Spanish towns and cities contributed to the investigation by volunteering to stand in special booths where laser beams measured them from all angles to produce a three-dimensional image. They were then categorised into three groups by the shapes of their bodies: hourglass (39 per cent and mainly under 60 years of age), cylindrical (36 per cent, predominantly in younger age groups) and bell-shaped (25 per cent, mostly older women).

The data collected also show that the average Spanish woman is 1.62 metres tall and weighs 57 kilograms, and that more than 86 per cent have a healthy height-to-weight ratio. Women considered to be extremely thin made up just 1.4 per cent of the total, but worryingly 70 per cent of these said they were happy with their appearance.

The ministry is now recommending that manufacturers take these findings into account when designing women’s clothes and suggests that labelling should cease to be a single figure, but should show a woman’s height and her bust-waist-hips measurements. The government has confirmed it is to repeat the exercise using male volunteers to create a similar standard for men’s clothing.