News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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McDowell wins Andalucía Masters
Lee Westwood ends Tiger Woods's reign as world number one
By David Eade
IN RECENT years the end-of-season Volvo Masters has been synonymous with mainland Europe's top golf course at Valderrama. However, last year the event followed the money to Dubai so the Andalucía government and the Valderrama course came up with their own top-draw event in conjunction with the European Tour.
On Sunday Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell continued his golden season by winning the Andalucía Masters in Sotogrande to put pressure on European money-list leader Martin Kaymer.
US Open champion McDowell closed with a three-over 74 for a three-under 281 total in difficult conditions at Valderrama to win by two strokes from compatriot Gareth Maybin, Dane Soren Kjeldsen and Irishman Damien McGrane.
The first prize of 500,000 euros almost halves the amount by which the second-placed McDowell trails money-list leader Kaymer, who finished down the field in a tie for 21st place and missed the chance to take over at the top of the world rankings when they are published on Monday.
Instead, Britain's Lee Westwood took top spot when the listings were issued on Monday to end Tiger Woods's 281-week reign as number one.
Mijas plans ‘transformation' of pueblo
Nine million-euro scheme to be funded by low-interest loan
By Oliver McIntyre
MIJAS town hall is planning what local officials describe as an "historical transformation of the pueblo as well as La Cala." The scheme involves a nine million-euro investment and will include a total remodel of the pueblo's central Plaza Virgen de la Peña.
The council last week approved the town hall's adhesion to the Junta de Andalucía's Financing Fund for Tourism Infrastructure Modernisation, which will allow it to apply for a 5.8 million-euro loan at very advantageous conditions. The 15-year loan has a 0.5 per cent interest rate and allows interest-only payments during the first five years.
The remainder of the money will come as a grant from the Junta's Plan Qualifica tourism infrastructure programme.
Among the four projects encompassed in the scheme, the biggest is the Plaza Virgen de la Peña remodel, which will cost 4.8 million euros and will transform the plaza into a wide open, pedestrian-only space better suited to house the major events that are held there, including International Day and local fair activities.
Guadalhorce celebrates bumper citrus crop
Thanks to heavy rainfall, fruit quality is 'stupendous', say growers
By Dave Jamieson
THE QUALITY of fruit from this year's citrus harvest in the Guadalhorce valley is expected to be extremely high. Asaja Málaga says the heavy rains of last winter have restored the area's orchards after the drought.
Asaja, the professional association of growers and farmers in the province, last week gave an optimistic forecast about this year's crops. Its spokesman for fruit and vegetables, Benjamín Faulí, described the quality as "stupendous." Across the province 187,000 tons of citrus fruits including lemons, oranges and tangerines are expected to be harvested, which Asaja says will be up to 15 per cent over last autumn. Some 80 per cent of Málaga's lemons and 65 per cent of its oranges are exported, while most of the tangerines are consumed locally.
Around 99 per cent of Málaga's 10,000 hectares of fruit acreage lies in the Guadalhorce river valley and this area will produce up to 200,000 tons of all types of fruit this year. That will bring returns of around 50 million euros to the area's growers since nearly all varieties are selling for twice the price they commanded at this time last year, a period which Asaja described as "ruinous." Sr Faulí added, however, that it was too early to predict how prices will hold up in the coming weeks.
Double whammy of water price hikes
Axarquía towns face new regional tax plus local rate increase
By Dave Jamieson
A NEW regional water tax will affect all consumers in Andalucía from January 1. However, some residents in the Axarquía face a separate, local price hike the same day.
The Junta de Andalucía has announced a new regional tax to raise enough money to meet EU obligations on purification plants. All waste water must go to treatment plants by 2015 to meet the European directive, but 10 per cent of the region's population live in towns which lack facilities for water to be purified and where it is therefore disposed of untreated. The Junta needs to invest almost 1.8 million euros to finance around 300 projects if it is to meet the EU deadline.
This cash is to be raised by a two-pronged tax. First, every household in the region will be charged an extra one euro on every water bill from January 1, 2011. Second, a sliding scale of up to 60 cents will be applied, dependent on consumption. The region's Minister for the Environment, José Juan Díaz Trillo, said last week that these levies would add 1.2 euros to the average family's monthly bill next year.
The Junta's tax is being opposed by the Partido Popular, whose regional president Javier Arenas says the party will take the issue to the Constitutional Court. He claims it harms local self-government and is not in consumers' interests.
Meanwhile, residents in Vélez-Málaga, Rincón de la Victoria, Algarrobo and Torrox will pay even more on their water bills from January 1. The Axarquía water company Axaragua is set to raise its rates by over 36 per cent, increasing the price of a cubic metre of water by 8.5 cents to 0.3197 euros. Axaragua says this will increase monthly bills to its customers by around 3.70 euros a month.
ANDALUCÍA WOOS BRITS
Region launches 1.5 million-euro UK promo surrounding World Trade Market
By Oliver McIntyre
THE Junta de Andalucía has launched a 1.5 million-euro promotional push surrounding the World Travel Market in London in an effort to woo back British tourists.
Determined to bring visitor numbers back up - British arrivals to the region have dropped by more than eight per cent over the last year -Andalucía's tourism chiefs are going beyond a mere presence at the WTM. Instead, they are taking their message to the streets, rolling out promotional activities in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Dublin.
The four cities, with a combined 200 weekly flights to Andalucía, represent a potential market of some 11 million tourists to the region, said the Junta's tourism minister, Luciano Alonso, presenting the campaign last week.
"Reactivating the British market is not just a goal or an aspiration, it is a central objective," said Sr Alonso. "The best way to capitalise on our presence [at the WTM in London] is by extending our field of action to other cities" at the same time.
The promotional activities, running from November 5 to 11, are being rolled out in one major commercial centre in each city, under the slogan Andalucía Friends Week. At each site a stand offers tourism information as well as flamenco demonstrations and free tastings of typical food and drink from the region. There are electronic terminals where people can make travel reservations on the spot.
Police seek more victims of British financial advisor
Detained man allegedly scammed investors of at least 50,000 euros
By David Eade
THE National Police in Marbella have arrested two men, a Briton and a Dutchman, who are alleged to have carried out separate fraud operations netting 150,000 euros.
Of major concern is the case of an unnamed 43-year-old Briton who had set himself up as an investment advisor. Police say that to gain credibility he rented an office in Puerto Banús but fled without paying the rent.
He tricked would-be investors out of 50,000 euros by telling them he invested in international stock markets and earned a high return for his clients. Once he had banked their money in an account in Luxembourg he disappeared, but was tracked down by police again in Marbella.
Officers are continuing their enquiries because they suspect there may be other victims, probably amongst the British or foreign resident community. Anybody who believes they may have been a victim of this scam should contact the National Police in Marbella.
Pain in Spain as one in five fall below poverty line
Nearly 40 per cent of households are unable to handle unforeseen expenses
By Oliver McIntyre
AS THE economic crisis rolls on, more than one in five people in Spain now live below the poverty line and 30 per cent have difficulty making it to the end of the month on their household income, according new data from the National Statistics Institute.
The recession continues to prey on new victims as the number living under the poverty line - defined as 60 per cent of the nationwide median income - jumped by more than one percentage point compared to last year's survey, from 19.5 to 20.8 per cent.
The average household income in 2009, the year reflected in the survey, was 25,732 euros, down 2.9 per cent from the previous year, while the average income per person was down 2.4 per cent to 9,627 euros.
Nearly 37 per cent of households have no capacity to handle unforeseen expenses, while almost 40 per cent say they are unable to take a holiday for even one week a year.
The percentage of households that say they are falling behind on their basic monthly bills - such as mortgage and utilities - has reached 7.7 per cent, up from 4.5 per cent five years ago.
The hardest hit are the elderly and children; the study shows the highest poverty rate is among over-65s, at 24.6 per cent, followed closely by under-16s, at 24.5 per cent.
Andalucía near bottom
Andalucía is the second-poorest region of the country, with 29.3 per cent of households living under the poverty threshold, behind only Extremadura, on 36.2 per cent. At the other end of the scale is Navarra, with the country's lowest poverty rate, at 7.4 per cent, followed by País Vasco, on 9.4 per cent.
Anger in Spain over Facebook privacy breach
Consumer watchdog calls for investigation by Data Protection Agency
By Oliver McIntyre
CONSUMER group Facua has called on Spain's Data Protection Agency to investigate a privacy breach on Facebook that was uncovered last week by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that tens of millions of users of the social-networking site could be affected.
The WSJ said that 10 of the most popular games and applications on Facebook had been transmitting people's user names, and in some cases the names of their ‘friends', to at least 25 advertising or data-collection companies. Even users who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings were affected.
The offending applications - made by independent software developers, not Facebook itself - included FarmVille (59 million users); Phrases (43.4 million); Texas HoldEm (36.4 million); FrontierVille (30.6 million); Causes (26.7 million); Café World (21.9 million); Mafia Wars (21.9 million); Quiz Planet (16.5 million); Treasure Isle (15.3 million); and IHeart (14 million). Six of them are made by Zinga Game Network Inc.
Facebook prohibits applications makers from providing user data to outside advertising and data companies but, with some 550,000 applications on the site, enforcement may be a challenge, pointed out the WSJ.
"Facua has requested that the Data Protection Agency, working within its jurisdiction, launch an investigation to clarify the dimensions of the situation ... and levy the appropriate sanctions against Facebook and the companies that [made the applications which] illegally provided the confidential data of users," said the Spanish consumer group.
It is not enough for authorities to simply demand that the companies change their behaviour, it said. "If there are violations of data-protection laws, the companies must face fines proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the number of users affected."
Tougher smoking ban to begin January 2
New law means no lighting up in bars, restaurants and even some outdoor areas
By Dave Jamieson
STRICTER legislation on smoking last week passed its final major hurdle and will become effective on January 2, 2011. The new law will also restrict the appearance of tobacco-related images in the media.
On Wednesday, the congressional Health Commission gave its approval to the expansion of existing legislation which has been in place since January 1, 2006. As expected, smoking will be completely prohibited in all enclosed public spaces as well as in certain open-air spaces including parks, children's play areas, and school and hospital grounds. The text defines the prohibited public spaces as "all places accessible to the public or for common usage, whether publically or privately owned," plus public transport and terraces "with a maximum of two walls." Smoking in the open-air will still remain legal in universities and places "for the exclusive use of adults."
Hotels can reserve up to 30 per cent of rooms for smokers but these must be separated from other rooms, while smoking will be permitted in outdoor areas of prisons, psychiatric centres, and centres for the elderly or disabled or in indoor areas in places which are designated smoking zones and have adequate ventilation. The ban does not extend to smoking clubs which cannot admit minors.
The opposition Partido Popular continued to oppose the legislation on three points: first, that special smoking areas in bars and restaurants will no longer be permitted; second, that owners who constructed such areas to meet the requirements of the 2006 legislation will not be compensated; and third, that the definition of a terrace varies from region to region.
In addition, the revised law prohibits the media, including the internet, from showing presenters, participants and guests appearing to be smoking. In addition, television, radio and the press will be barred from "mentioning, directly or indirectly, brands, trademarks, logos and other images associated with tobacco products." However, the legislation acknowledges that smokers will continue to appear in feature films.