Costa del Sol News - 12th March 2010

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Mayor Muñoz seeks to renegotiate town's debts

Repayments will leave council coffers without money for basic services

By David Eade

MARBELLA is "suffocating" under its historic debt. This is the warning issued by mayor Ángeles Muñoz who says that 280 million euros is owed to the social security and tax authorities with whom an agreement has been made to pay off the debt over ten years but it leaves the coffers empty.

Muñoz stated that since the Partido Popular administration had come to power it has introduced "pioneering" savings schemes, that are now being copied by other towns. However on a day to day basis Marbella's affairs were unviable because of the debts run up in the GIL and post-GIL eras.

She has called for an urgent meeting with the Spanish minister of labour, Celestino Corbacho, and the president of the regional government, José Antonio Griñán, to seek state and regional investment to stave off pending disaster.

Ángeles Muñoz argues that if the town hall pays off its debts to the social security and tax agencies over a ten year period as agreed, there will be no monies for basic services. She wants to meet with Corbacho to renegotiate these repayments. She argues she cannot settle the 280 million-euro debt and service the town hall's 200 million euros annual budget at the same time.

The mayor hopes that there will soon be a legal break through that could enable the council to claim the seized assets, currently being held by the High Court, of those who have been sentenced of defrauding the town hall.


Expats to get legal aid to combat property fraud

By John Peatey and Dave Jamieson

BRITISH  Consulates in Málaga and Alicante will soon have Spanish legal experts on hand to advise Britons on home ownership, especially those whose properties have been deemed illegal by the regional government.

Sunday's announcement of help with integration in Spain came ahead of next Wednesday's march in Málaga to protest at home demolition threats.

The UK's Minister of State for Europe and Consular Affairs, Chris Bryant, spent the weekend in Andalucía seeing first-hand how property scandals in the region are affecting British residents.

After a meeting on Sunday in Albox with four of the Almeria expat families threatened with the demolition of their homes, Mr Bryant dashed to Málaga to join Gaspar Zarrías - Spain's Secretary of State for Territorial Affairs - and top Junta housing official Juan Espadas to release a joint statement announcing the launch of the new programme to help Britons avoid the pitfalls of buying property in Spain.

"We are now going to have a member of staff working here, in the Consulate in Málaga and also in Alicante, to try and help with all the various different issues that British people face when they come to live in Spain," said Mr Bryant.

"I think that's going to make a real difference and I'm very grateful for that."

Gaspar Zarrías, explained that the British Embassy, the Spanish government, and the Junta had worked together to reach a solution. He said the Spanish civil servants based in the Málaga and Alicante Consulates will be experts in legislation, enabling British citizens to obtain all the relevant information they need.

The new staff, who are being funded by the Junta de Andalucía and supported by the British Embassy, are expected to take up their posts in the next few weeks.

Observers have nonetheless pointed out that the new agreement will not solve the current property problems.

Francisco Alonso Serrano, a lawyer acting on behalf of one of the affected homeowners in Albox, said he believed the Junta was actively seeking to compensate homeowners rather than announce a general amnesty for illegal properties. However compensation claims could take up to 15 years to sort out. "We will all be dead by then," said Ms Hillen, another of the Albox homeowners.

There is also the unresolved issue over who will pay compensation, knowing that councils are debt-ridden and have very limited means to generate revenue.

Ms Hillen also claimed the Junta had not shifted significantly in its stance. She said: "The Junta is making every effort to kill the story. They've done their best to ignore the marches; the inspection plan is not over; and they put the issue of compensation on the table but expect councils to pay."

Málaga march

Save Our Homes Axarquía (SOHA), organisers of next week's march in Málaga, said they were pleased that "at long last" the British and Spanish governments are communicating on the matter and looked forward to meeting and working with the new official. SOHA's Gary Miles told CDSN, "Clearly, our pressure is beginning to yield results so we must maintain that pressure, particularly on the Junta de Andalucía. We look forward to seeing concerned citizens of all countries on the streets of Málaga on March 17."

The march on Wednesday begins at 12 noon in Plaza de la Marina and coincides with a two-day informal meeting of Territorial Cooperation Ministers in Málaga, chaired by Spain's Minister for Territorial Policy, Manuel Chaves.

Second-hand home sales rise

Numbers show the first uptick in the housing market since 2006

By Oliver McIntyre

 SALES of second-hand homes in Málaga province rose by 2.7 per cent in 2009, the first uptick in the housing market since 2006. However, new home sales continued in free-fall, plummeting 31 per cent in 2009 compared to 2008, according to data released last week by the Housing Ministry.

During 2009 there were 11,847 second-hand homes sold in the province, 320 more than the previous year, while new home sales dropped to 10,272, from 14,903 in 2008.

Overall - including both new and second-hand homes - the province registered 22,119 home sales in 2009, down from 26,430 in 2008, a drop of 19 per cent. Even in the last quarter of 2009 - when overall nationwide home sales showed their first year-on-year increase in three years (up 4.1 per cent) - the Costa's overall home sales failed to show positive year-on-year growth. However, they did halt their decline, remaining basically flat; in Q4 of 2009 there were 6,122 homes sold in the province, compared to 6,132 in the same quarter of 2008.

Climber injured in fall at El Chorro

The Guardia Civil also rescued a British couple who got lost in the same area

By Oliver McIntyre

A 23-YEAR-OLD German man was injured last week when he fell from a height of six metres while rock climbing at El Chorro in Álora. The incident happened less than a month after a 24-year-old Swiss man was killed in a climbing accident in the zone.

The Guardia Civil mountain rescue team based in Álora received the call shortly after noon last Thursday after the man fell while climbing with his father in a climbing spot known as La Escalera Suiza.

The victim "was performing a descent as his father manned the rope, but the rope was too short and he fell from about six metres up," a source involved in the rescue effort told Costa del Sol News.

The climber was conscious but suffered multiple contusions, a broken arm and a fractured shoulder. It took rescuers three hours to evacuate him from the site and board him on helicopter to be airlifted to Málaga's Hospital Clínico.

It was the second serious accident at El Chorro in recent weeks, following the fatal incident on February 14 when a 24-year-old Swiss man fell to death while scaling a cliff in the wall in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes gorge.

British walkers found

On Friday evening the Guardia Civil mountain rescue team was called out to the El Chorro yet again, this time to come to the rescue of an English couple who got lost while hiking in the zone. They were coming down from the Pico Huma zone when the fog descended on them. After several hours the rescue team located them near the Cortijo del Madroño, tired and cold but in good condition.

Chaos rains on the Costa

Latest deluge causes widespread damage with floods, rock falls and road closures

By David Eade

ON SATURDAY Málaga province was once again on Orange alert with rainfall of between 30 and 80mm predicted, and the forecasters were not mistaken as a deluge again caused chaos in Estepona, Manilva, Casares, Alhaurín de la Torre and Cártama.

The Manilva river burst its banks causing a family with three small children to be completely stranded. A road in the town was also closed and heavy waves broke on the shore at Sabinillas. On Sunday around 2,000 people in Manilva were without drinking water after a supply pipe was broken during the storms.

Estepona was again badly hit with the Guadalobón and El Padrón rivers in full flood. The fire brigade was called out to rescue families whose homes were flooded. Mayor David Valadez issued an alert that three small streams could flood and the fire teams answered 150 calls from residents with flooded homes and garages in the Forest Hills and Las Abejeras areas.

In both Estepona and Casares roads were blocked by landslides, including the MA8300 and the road that crosses the old town centre of Casares. Estepona's councillor for agriculture, Carmen Ocaña, reported on Sunday that some 50 families in rural zones were cut off and roads in the areas were impassable. Many residents of rural Estepona are seeking help to pay for the repairs caused by the winter's rains.

In Málaga a number of properties were damaged and 15 people were evacuated in Santa Amalia in Alhaurin de la Torre. The Guadalhorce river at Estación de Cártama again broke its banks. The A7057 as it passes Cártama was closed to all traffic for most of the day. Major problems were also experienced in Antequera and Archidona.

The heavy rains continued on Monday and that night eight people were evacuated from their homes at La Cala del Moral by the Totalán river. A landslide threatened to engulf a block of apartments and nearby homes. Major landslides were also reported in Manilva, Torremolinos and in Casarabonela, where three houses were damaged. In Manilva a number of homes were evacuated as a major land shift caused wide cracks to open up in their walls and facades.

The rains of February that have spread over in to this month have tripled the historic average registered in Málaga province. The provincial authority reports that the damage to the road network is over 14 million euros.

Across the border in Cádiz municipalities fared little better with the fire consortium recording 250 callouts. Once again Chiclana has borne the brunt of the deluge with 90mm of rainfall and three rivers breaking their banks.

Government aid

The Spanish and Andalucía governments have agreed to create a working group to seek "immediate" solutions to tackle the "exceptional" heavy rains that have been recorded in recent months. The move was announced by the premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the president of the regional government, José Antonio Griñán, at a press conference after the EU - Morocco summit in Granada.

Spain reprimanded over cross-border health bill

Government refused to reimburse foreign resident for treatment in home country

By Dave Jamieson

A DISPUTE over a French hospital bill has led to Spain being ticked off by an EU legal advisor.  His comments come as the European Parliament is working to revise cross-border health care.

The EU's advocate general, Paolo Mengozzi, said last week that Spain was in breach of the EU law which relates to providing services.  His report follows an investigation into the case of a French resident of Spain who is affiliated to the Spanish social security system and who had received emergency treatment while on a visit to France.  Spain has refused to reimburse the patient for the hospital costs which were involved, and the dispute was referred to the European Commission. 

Last week's report made it clear that the economic repercussions on a country's national health resources should not restrict cross-border movement of EU citizens.  It added, however, that the country of social security affiliation should be obliged to pay no more than the treatment would have cost if carried out within its territory.

This legal opinion from the advocate general does not impose an obligation on Madrid but is an independent view presented to the European Court of Justice, where the matter still has to be resolved.