Costa del Sol News - 12th June 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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

Week 12th June - 18th June 2008


Over 9,000 people attended Mijas's 20th International Day at the weekend, taking in the explosion of colour, music, dance and exotic food. Thirty stands, representing different nations, offered their country's top dishes and typical beverages while passers-by enjoyed the festive ambience and live entertainment. This is the first time the event has been held over two days and the Foreign Residents' Department says that it's been a bigger success than ever. Photo: J. Rutland


Transport stoppage causes rush on petrol and food

By Oliver McIntyre

Petrol stations and supermarkets were overrun early this week with consumers anxious to fill their tanks and their refrigerators before the incipient nationwide lorry drivers' strike left supplies depleted.

On Monday morning truckers launched their indefinite work stoppage in protest over fuel prices, blocking the French border and backing up traffic with slow-moving convoys in some parts of the country, with tailbacks of up to 20 kilometres in major cities like Barcelona and Madrid.Already on Monday some petrol stations had run dry after drivers swarmed over the weekend to fill their tanks ahead of the strike. In Barcelona there were reports that 40 per cent of stations ran out of supplies, and it was predicted that could jump to 80 per cent within days.In Málaga province an estimated 20 per cent of filling stations ran out of top-selling products like diesel A and 95-octane petrol by midday Tuesday, but an industry association said the problem was mostly due to the huge spike in demand, not a diminishing of supplies, as the lorries that supply the stations are not among those on strike.Nonetheless, in Barcelona, for example, a special fleet of 20 police-escorted lorries had to be used to get basic supplies to local petrol stations.Government officials, who are in negotiations with Fenadismer and other transport trade unions, have stated that there will not be petrol shortages.Consumers also rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food, and the increased demand coupled with scant deliveries left some store shelves bare. Particularly hard hit have been perishable goods like meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables.Seafood was the first item to grow scarce, as the majority of the country's fishing fleet is also moored up in protest over the soaring diesel prices.Lorry drivers in neighbouring Portugal and France have also launched strike actions. In Britain, on Tuesday, PM Gordon Brown called on motorists not to panic buy fuel ahead of a threatened four-day strike by tanker drivers due to start tomorrow.In Granada the strike grew deadly on Tuesday as a picketing driver died after being run over by a non-striking driver whose van he approached in an attempt to get him to join the work stoppage.At press time the Spanish government had reached an agreement with the National Freight Transport Committee but it was still being reviewed by Fenadismer and Confedetrans, the unions that called the strike. Fenadismer had previously insisted on the establishment of a minimum price for haulage, which was not included in the government's 54-point proposal.

Gibraltar also affected

The strike also caused panic buying in Gibraltar, where drivers rushed to stock up on diesel and petrol amid fears of a shortage. Police were on duty at local petrol stations to maintain order as Gibraltarian and Spanish drivers queued to buy fuel. Sales of marine diesel have already been stopped to yachts.The public has been assured that there are no problems with supplies of diesel for electricity generation, emergency vehicles or the hospital as this fuel is brought in by sea and the Gibraltar government has stockpiled reserves.Morrisons, Gibraltar's largest supermarket, has played down fears of food shortages. Manager Gary Chant explained: "There has been an impact on a small number of product lines, but we have received deliveries and we would reassure our customers that there is no need for concern."

Car park fire scorches 39 vehicles

Sixty people were evacuated from Benalmádena urbanisation

By Oliver McIntyre

An early-morning inferno at a Benalmádena car park on Friday scorched 39 vehicles - 35 cars, two motorcycles and two scooters - and destroyed the parking lot's roof structure. Nobody was injured in the fire.Firefighters received the call at 4.12pm and responded to the exterior car park at the Alquibla building in Avenida de los Botijos in the Sierrazuela zone of Benalmádena Pueblo.When they arrived, the roof structure over the car park - consisting of wooden framework and a thatch roof - was engulfed in flames and a number of vehicles were ablaze.Nine Benalmádena firefighters attacked the flames with three fire engines, and an additional truck with four 'bomberos' was sent from Torremolinos. By 5.15am the crews had the blaze under control and by 6.40am it was completely extinguished, according to Benalmádena officials.In addition to the destroyed vehicles, the fire caused smoke damage to adjacent buildings and some 60 people were temporarily evacuated from the Tío Charles urbanisation as a safety precaution.

Cause unknown

Officials have not pinpointed the exact cause of the fire. The town hall stated that the scientific police have not ruled out the possibility that a spark, cigarette butt or other foreign object landed accidentally on the thatch roof and started the fire. However, investigators are looking into all possibilities, including arson.

Eye in the sky is nabbing Costa drivers

The Málaga-based unit is one of the first fully functional radar-camera helicopters in the country

By Oliver McIntyre

The Traffic Department's helicopter patrols are now nabbing around 100 drivers a month in Málaga province for speeding and other road infractions.Last summer (CDSN, August 16 2007) Tráfico launched the new eye-in-the-sky patrols using high-tech radar-cameras that can not only clock a car's speed but also read and photograph its number plate from 300 metres in the air. The system went through a test period and is being brought online gradually in different parts of the country.Now the new system has been fully operational in Málaga province for several months and officials say it is highly effective. Before, helicopter patrols had to radio to Guardia Civil officers on the ground to pursue an offending driver. But now the radar-camera automatically identifies the vehicle and its owner receives the ticket in the mail.Besides speeding, the most common offence spotted by the air patrols is illegal passing, particularly where drivers cross a solid centre line to do so.The Málaga-based unit, which also patrols roads in Almería, Granada and Jaén, is one of the first fully functional radar-camera helicopters in the country, as many provinces are still in a testing phase, say officials.Málaga has two traffic helicopters but only one is equipped with the radar-camera system, known as MX-15 and based on military technology. On weekdays the helicopters focus their patrols on the highways surrounding Málaga city while on weekends and holidays they concentrate on other sections of the A7, the A45 and the A92.

Political row erupts over Nerja Caves Festival

Mayor riled over presentation being held in Málaga

By Dave Jamieson

Last week's announcement of the programme for next month's Nerja Caves Festival was eagerly received by fans of the annual event but took on political overtones with the town's mayor refusing to attend the presentation.The 49th edition of the festival will be held from July 22 to 26. The first night will be given over to dance with a presentation by Antonio Márquez and his ballet flamenco company, which will perform a varied programme to music including Ravel's Bolero. Wednesday will take the form of a recital by the Munich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sebastian Hamann with music by Bach, Handel and Mozart. They will be joined for the night by the Málaga violin prodigy Jesús Reina as soloist.On Thursday and Friday, the famous caverns will welcome the Royal Danish Ballet with an eclectic repertoire - from Stravinsky to The Beatles - directed by Frank Andersen.The Festival's closing night is to be a recital by the soprano Ainhoa Arteta, who was born in Tolosa near San Sebastian in northern Spain. She will perform works by Donizetti, Puccini and Granados amongst others.Each event will begin at 10pm and admission to all concerts is priced at 50 euros. As usual, getting hold of tickets will be much like the search for the Holy Grail.But last Thursday's official presentation of the programme, held at the central government offices in Málaga, prompted an angry outburst from Nerja's mayor. José Alberto Armijo refused to attend the event, arguing that it should have been held in Nerja and rejecting counter-claims that better media coverage was possible in Málaga. The governing Partido Popular (PP) in Nerja said that it had only been advised of the event with seven days notice and had not received relevant paperwork until four days after that. The head of the Nerja Caves Foundation, Ángel Ramírez, who is also leader of the opposition PSOE at Nerja town hall, accused the mayor of constantly adopting an obstructive posture towards anything not under the control of the PP.

Quality questioned

Last Monday the PP's Nerja spokesman, José Miguel García, added fuel to the fire by declaring the festival programme was "lacking in imagination." Historically, he said, the quality was high, recalling the year when Rostropovich played the cello in front of Queen Sofía. The festival, he added, has "lost its standing" when compared to similar events in Torremolinos and Almuñécar.

Brit volunteers get big thanks from Mijas school

Pioneering English-language programme receives official award

By Oliver McIntyre

A group of British retirees last week received an official award of recognition from Mijas town hall, and a much sillier and emphatic tribute from a roomful of singing and dancing schoolchildren."Thank you!" shouted the children after performing a series of songs in English and Spanish for the group of clearly charmed Britons, who during the school term have volunteered as English tutors at the school.The programme, called I Speak English, was pioneered this year at the Virgen de la Peña primary school with the assistance of the town's Foreigners' Department. The school, which is one of the Junta de Andalucía's bilingual centres, came up with the idea as a way to help the children practice conversational English.Some 400 children aged eight to 11 have participated in the sessions held Monday and Wednesday mornings, said the headmaster, Hipólito Zapico, who hailed the programme as a tremendous success."The headmaster said there were no rules," volunteer Grant Bremmer told Costa del Sol News, explaining the freewheeling style of the sessions, during which each of the roughly 40 volunteers works with a group of just a few children. "With the eight-year-olds I do pictures, colours, the alphabet or counting, while with the 11-year-olds I can play games like Hangman," said the retired Scotsman.Pamela Shemmings and Wendy Wool, who volunteer along with several other members of the Miraflores bowls club, told CDSN that the programme benefits them as much as it does the children. "Being retired on the Costa means we don't have contact with any children. So this is great for us - and hopefully for the kids, too."They also feel strongly that this is an opportunity for them to "give to the community and to integrate into the Spanish way of life."The town councillor in charge of the Foreigners' Department, María del Carmen Jiménez, said the goal now is to extend the programme to other schools in the town.

Charities analyse finances as purse strings tighte

Animal society carries out internal audit

By Dave Jamieson

With the present economic situation reducing many people's disposable income, a number of organisations have had to take a long, hard look at the viability of their activities. Not least are charities, which have seen a sharp drop in their only form of income: donations from the public.One such group is the Costa Animal Society (CAS) based in Nerja, which has weathered a recent financial crisis, prompting it to launch an internal investigation to confirm that it is offering value for the money donated for its work. The volunteer-based group organises many activities to raise funds, including last Saturday's dog show, Scruff's, held in Cómpeta, with entrants arriving from as far away as Antequera. The event raised 2,975 euros, more than last year's edition, with a second event, Scruff's Nerja, scheduled for July 19.CAS began operating 23 years ago and re-homes dogs and cats that have been abandoned or have no owner. Last year, the volunteers found new homes for 184 adult dogs - 51 of which went to the Netherlands and 31 to Germany - plus 51 puppies, 31 cats and over 100 kittens. At any time, there are 25 dogs and 10 cats in local kennels, while a number of members and friends offer temporary homes to additional animals that CAS cannot afford to accommodate.The group says it presently costs an average of five euros per day to keep a dog or cat in kennels. In addition, each animal is vaccinated and neutered at a cost of 150 euros. CAS also feeds 150 feral cats every day, many of which are caught, neutered and returned in an effort to control the population.The only cost to an animal's adoptive owner is the regulatory microchip, for which CAS does not pay.

Study findings

Announcing the results of the study last week, CAS President Wendy Thorne said, "All our workers are volunteers and we receive no official funding, so we thank everyone who donates so generously. Our monthly running costs are 6,500 euros per month and only 15 per cent of that goes on administration. We believe this to be good value for money."

More information on CAS, including pictures of animals looking for new homes, can be found at

Junta says no to Málaga's third public hospital

Local authorities and health workers say more beds are essential

By Dave Jamieson

THE DEBATE over whether or not there should be a third hospital in the city of Málaga was threatening to develop into a full scale battle at the end of last week. On one side is the Junta de Andalucía, while on the opposing side is almost everyone else.The latest skirmish began with a request from the PP-led town hall for the socialist regional government to initiate a project which would provide a new 400-bed facility to augment the Carlos Haya and Clínico hospitals (CDSN May 29). However, the Junta says no.Their official line is to support the decentralisation of health provision with the 200 million-euro project already underway for a number of small, high resolution health centres - known as CHARE units - throughout the Costa del Sol and Guadalhorce Valley. Provincial health delegate María Antigua Escalera said last Thursday that the government's priority was to decongest the two city hospitals with the new facilities in Mijas, Estepona and Cártama. These are expected to provide treatment for around 600,000 patients annually.As far as Málaga goes, the Junta plans a new 110-bed annexe in the grounds of the Clínico hospital, plus over 20 million euros worth of reforms at both the existing city hospitals. The government says the province will have a total of 570 extra beds in 2011.Reaction to the official stance has come thick and fast with several local groups and organisations supporting the town hall's demands. The president of the Doctors' Association, Juan José Sánchez, said it was "essential" Málaga should have a third hospital and urged the Junta to reverse its decision, while Juan Antonio Astorga of the Nursing Association said that the province needed 1,000 more beds, the majority of which were to meet demand from the city. The increase in population made the need for a third hospital "urgent" according to Antonio Herrera of the CCOO trades union, and Carmen Flores of the patients' group Defensor del Paciente agreed with the need for a new hospital rather than, "patching up the Hospital Cívil". Málaga's mayor has welcomed support from these and other groups and is to make further approaches to the Junta.The number of hospital beds available is defined by the health authorities as four per thousand of population, but local observers estimate Málaga's total at fewer than two per thousand. María Antigua Escalera refused to enter a fight over figures last week but simply said that Málaga was a "priority" in health planning in the region and urged local groups not to treat the subject in a "frivolous" manner. Taking a side-swipe at the PP-run town hall, the PSOE delegate added that its campaign for a new hospital was perhaps an attempt to, "avoid the debate on its competence and deficiencies in the city."With entrenchment clear on both sides, the battle looked set to run but by Tuesday this week both sides agreed to down weapons for the time being and discuss options further.

Can't pay, won't pay

Council employs stalling tactics to avoid paying Priors, say lawyers

By Richard Torné

VERA council's decision not to compensate the Priors over the demolition of their home, first reported in the Costa del Sol News January 17 edition, has stunned the couple.Ruling councillors decided at a plenary meeting last week to begin legal action against the regional government, arguing that the Junta and not the council should compensate Len and Helen Prior for the loss of their property.Although Mrs Prior said she had been expecting the council's decision, she expressed deep anger at the news. She said: "We're disgusted because the mayor told everyone who cared to listen that we were going to get paid down to the last penny, knowing that he was never going to do this. It's horrible."The Priors' home was bulldozed on January 9 after a judge ruled in favour of the Junta's appeal to revoke the building permit - which had been granted by the council - on the grounds that the property encouraged further development in a rural area.The couple subsequently claimed damages from the council amounting to 690,000 euros, based on their bank's evaluation of their property.The basis for the council's legal case stems from the conviction that the regional government's unfavourable report was non-binding and should not have been acted upon by the judge.Speaking to CDSN's sister newspaper Costa Almería News, the mayor of Vera, Félix López, said it would be down to the courts to decide who was to blame. He said: "We're convinced the Junta committed serious mistakes in their appeal to have the house pulled down."We're doing this to defend the rights of Vera's residents," he remarked.However, insiders expressed outrage that the council had decided to take the Junta to court at this late stage. Costa Almería News revealed in January that council documents showed the local authority had failed to inform the Priors for years of the Junta's intention to challenge the building licence.Many believe the decision is a cynical move to delay the inevitable, as a protracted court case could take between six to 10 years, including appeals before Spain's supreme tribunal.The Priors' solicitor, Victor Martínez, confirmed that the couple would be seeking full damages from the council, adding that the mayor was "dragging his feet" over the case.He said: "If the council thinks it's the Junta's fault they should pay the Priors first and then seek damages from the regional government."

Council's cash crisis

The PSOE socialist party, last week revealed figures which shed light on the financial crisis facing the council.According to the spokesman for the party, Pedro Fernández Céspedes, the council is nine million euros in the red, much of it caused by administrative waste.Sr Céspedes, who has always staunchly defended the Junta in the Priors' case, claimed that because of poor planning and the slump in the construction sector the council had only been able to raise 30 per cent of the expected four million euros in building permits. In addition, two million euros had also failed to materialise in vehicle taxes.To back their claims, the party released the council's alleged expenditure, which included a total of 120,000 euros on phone calls over the year, as well as overspending by 40,000 euros on cultural events.

The Priors - living on the edge

The council's decision not to compensate the Priors has outraged the couple. Len Prior said: "What annoys me the most is that we didn't know about the town hall meeting until it was too late to do anything."His sentiments were echoed by his wife Helen, who said the council has not been in contact since the public demonstration organised in their support at the end of January."We're very worried about our storage costs. We've got eight huge containers which we're having to pay for and the bill for storage is continually going up," she said.The couple are now living in their garage which was saved from the bulldozers.Trying to make day-to-day life more bearable, Len has also converted a tin shed into a shower room, "so that we can at least keep ourselves clean".Since January the couple have been faced with spiralling costs, including the installation of an 11,000-litre water tank, an electricity cable - which runs from a neighbouring house - and soaring storage bills.The promise by mayor López to put them up in a flat shortly after the demolition was quietly shelved by the council after councillors failed to reach an agreement with the couple over accommodation requirements.

Study digs into100-year-old English garden

Ronda's Reina Victoria has evolved over time

By David Eade

A new study is digging into the history of the nearly 100-year-old traditional English-style garden at Ronda's Hotel Reina Victoria.Laid out by the hotel's then British owner in the classic, traditional English style the beautiful green zone by the Tajo has witnessed romantic walks, heated political discussions and tourists seeking the stunning views over the Serranía.The hotel was built by the same British company that constructed the railway line between Ronda and Algeciras, where its sister hotel the Reina Cristina is located. The hotels were named after the daughters of the wealthy financier Sir Alexander Henderson, later the first Lord Faringdon, who provided the funding for the projects.Now, a hundred years on, a group of experts in landscaping and gardening have carried out a study to discover the gardens secrets. Ronda biologist Andrés Rodríguez explains that the gardens are a living element; they have evolved over time and encompass the entire hotel.One of the oddities of the garden is that although it is typically English it does not have any lawns. Sr Rodríguez points out that in a cold and dry climate such Ronda's such a format was not feasible. Instead the designers opted for trees and vegetation from the area, adding pines, cypresses and palms from the Canary Islands. This is the only known location in the Serranía where such tropical trees grow.The garden has been able to survive and bloom in large part because the hotel itself acts as a shelter against the strong winds and rain that blast the top of the Tajo gorge during heavy storms.

Design changes

Over the years the gardens have seen various design changes, according to the study. For instance, in the 1920s Renaissance-style statues were added, and later on Ronda brick was used to decorate various paths.In the 1960s the gardens suffered when the Parra Grossi residence for the elderly was built adjacent to the hotel. Sr Rodríguez says that many flowers and a one of the most beautiful spaces in Ronda were destroyed during its construction.

Minister targets power prices, car sales and touri

Electricity rates to increase by five to six per cent

By Dave Jamieson

The Minister for Industry, Tourism and Commerce had a very busy day last Wednesday. In the space of a few hours, Miguel Sebastián raised the price of power for some and lowered it for others, cut the cost of bottled gas, re-launched the initiative to get older cars off the country's roads and announced plans to stimulate tourism.The average rise in electricity rates is to be between five and six per cent, which is a little above the rate of inflation, recorded at 4.7 per cent for May. The hike is well below the 11.3 per cent increase recommended by the National Energy Commission.However, those homes which have a power rating set at three kilowatts or lower will see their bills fall by as much as 10 per cent. The so-called 'social tariff' will benefit around 4.5 million families nationwide, including an estimated 225,000 in the province of Málaga, with an estimated total savings of three million euros. Experts say that the average home has a power rating of between 3.4 and 4.6 kilowatts, while three kilowatts is sufficient for lighting and the use of common appliances such as cooker, fridge and television. In addition, those in this category will pay only for the power they use, while others with greater demands will pay progressively more in an effort to encourage reductions in electricity usage. Household savings will be made with the reduction in the price of bottled gas by 2.4 per cent, setting a 12.5 kg bottle at 13.72 euros. Both electricity and gas price changes come into effect on July 1.Meanwhile, owners of cars which are more than 15 years old will soon have help replacing them when Plan Vive is introduced. The two-year initiative, which the minister promised would start within 45 days, aims to rid the roads of vehicles which emit more 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. It follows a previous campaign, Plan Prever, which ended last year, and is also intend to boost new car sales, which fell 24 per cent during May. Some 95,000 motorists in the province of Málaga are thought to be eligible for the advantageous financing terms provided by the new initiative.

Older tourists

Finally, the minister announced plans to boost tourism by encouraging long-stay, older visitors from across Europe. The target is 100 million potential clients between 55 and 75 years of age who will be invited to come to Spain in off-peak months. In addition, an initiative is to be launched to upgrade aging tourism infrastructure, which, said Sr Sebastián, will also help alleviate the present crisis in the construction sector.

Sanlúcar man goes missing

Police are investigating whether Rafael Ávila has been kidnapped

By David Eade

Spain's minister of the interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, pledged on Saturday that the police would do all they can to find the missing Sanlúcar de Barrameda businessman, Rafael Ávila. Speaking in Cádiz he said that experts had been brought in from Madrid to locate the well-known local resident.It is just over a week since Ávila disappeared and investigations are continuing into his possible kidnapping last Monday evening. According to reports Rafael Ávila turned off his computer and locked up his business administrator's office at around 21.30. He left his briefcase on his desk and since then all calls to his mobile phone have been unanswered.His family reported him missing in the early hours of Tuesday The police have stated that kidnapping is one of a number of leads they are following. His brother, José Manuel Ávila, explained that it was a very worrying time and they are waiting to see if a ransom demand is made.The family has been subjected to a number of phone calls since Rafael Ávila's disappearance became known, with some demanding money but all the contacts to date have been dismissed as being ''absurd''. José Manuel branded the anonymous callers as being ''stupid people with few scruples''. He added that his brother, married with three children, would not have gone off voluntarily.The family has interests in a construction company, petrol stations and the Bodegas Argüeso wine cellars that dates from 1822. However José Manuel stressed that the 44-year-old economist did not own them and that he was only involved in the administration side of the businesses.A spokesperson for the town hall said they were surprised at the events as Ávila was known as a serious man and was not involved in any problems. Just six weeks ago an 80-year-old Sanlúcar woman also vanished and has not been heard of since. At present the reason for Ávila's disappearance also remains a mystery