News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Illegal home vow
Government wants ‘legal security' for buyers
By Dave Jones
"WE WANT to guarantee that a property is completely legal when it is sold."
This was the commitment made by housing minister José Blanco as part of government initiative to attract foreign buyers back to Spain.
Regulations are to be introduced to protect against the purchase of illegal properties.
They will form part of package of measures designed to turn round Spain's depressed housing market - and improve its tarnished reputation abroad.
Sr Blanco appeared in front of the national Congress housing commission in Madrid to set out the government's vision for the housing sector.
Without making a direct reference to the nightmares experienced by the buyers of tens of thousands of illegal properties, Sr Blanco recognised the need to shore up the system.
He said: "Looking towards the international market, we will take measures to reinforce legal security for those who buy houses in our country.
Charles Svoboda, vice-president of AUN - the association which campaigns against property and land abuses - said the minister had made an ‘intelligent analysis of why things went so wrong' for the property market, but without admitting any guilt for past wrong-doings.
Marbella to launch university Spanish classes
Distance learning courses available to foreign residents and students abroad
By David Eade
FOREIGN residents of Marbella are soon to have access to university-level Spanish courses.
The historic Hospital San Juan de Dios being converted into a major academic centre and will open next year as the town's new office of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). In addition to the normal distance-learning classes, from February the centre will open its doors to foreigners wishing to learn Spanish on courses run by the University of Málaga.
Marbella's mayor, Ángeles Muñoz, and the rector of Málaga University, Adelaida de la Calle, signed an agreement this week that will see the rooms of the former hospital used for the six levels of courses which the university has so far only offered in Málaga city.
The courses will not only be offered to the foreign residents of the Costa del Sol, but will also be available in distance learning format to students of European universities as well as those in the US and Asia. At present officials have no concrete estimate on how many people will register for the courses in Marbella, but 2,500 students are enrolled in Málaga.
PAIN AT THE PUMP
Petrol prices hit highest price since July 2008
By Oliver McIntyre
COSTA drivers are suffering as the cost of 95-octane petrol in Spain has blasted past 1.20 euros a litre and reached its highest level since summer 2008.
According to last week's EU Oil Bulletin, a litre of Euro-super 95 cost an average of 1.23 euros a litre at Spanish filling stations, less than five cents shy of its historic high of 1.276 euros in July 2008. And prices are even higher in certain areas of the country - including Málaga province.
Last week's Spain-wide average price reflected a two per cent increase from the previous week and a 3.3 per cent increase over a two-week period. Year-on-year, the price for Euro-super 95 was up 15 per cent compared to the same week of December 2009.
Diesel also reached its annual high last week, at 1.147 euros per litre, similar to its level during the second half of 2008 after it had dropped from its historic high of 1.329 in July of that year. The diesel price was up 1.6 per cent from the previous week and 2.7 per cent from two weeks previous. The year-on-year increase was 19 per cent.
Groups unite to fight Coín quarry expansion
New association hopes to block the project before approval by the town council
By Oliver McIntyre
NUMEROUS groups and individuals have come together to fight the planned expansion of the El Puntal quarry in the Coín sierra.
In September the Junta de Andalucía approved the expansion, which will see the quarrying operations extended to a 70-hectare swath of forest land adjacent to the existing site. It justified the move based on the importance of the facility, which it described as "one of the principal dolomite quarries in Spain."
But opponents say the continued extraction work will be damaging both to the environment and to the health of local residents. Nearly a dozen associations, political parties and other groups, as well as private citizens, have united to create an organisation called the Committee in Defence of Health and the Protection of the Coín Sierra. They aim to halt the proposed expansion before it gets approved by the Coín council.
Among other things, the group says the expansion area sits above the watershed zone for the Nacimiento spring that serves as the town's water supply. Further, dust particles from the quarrying operations can cause respiratory problems, it says. The expansion represents the "plundering of a living natural area of sierra for the benefit of a single company," said one member.
Groups forming the new organisation include the environmental association Mesa por el Agua, the Amighé, PECTA and Coín en Transición associations, and the Izquierda Unida party.
Mijas illegal home owners call for regional solution
Group is reaching out to all affected owners in push for massive amnesty scheme
By Oliver McIntyre
A GROUP in Mijas has called for a region-wide solution to the issue of illegal homes built on non-building land, a problem they say is affecting as many as 500,000 people.
The Mijas illegal-home owners association (ARV) says the problem is too big and unwieldy to be handled on a case-by-case or even town-by-town basis and have called for the Junta de Andalucía to enact a massive amnesty scheme to solve the problem.
To date the Junta has maintained that the issue is best resolved at the local level as towns update their local development plans (PGOUs), a process which can include land classification changes resulting in the legalisation of some homes currently on non-building land.
But the homeowners say the Junta's approach is unacceptable, arguing that it is inefficient and unfairly arbitrary. Among other things, some cases are handled via administrative proceedings while others are prosecuted as criminal cases, they say. "It is chaos," said the group's lawyer, Ricardo Santandreu. "We want a little order."
The group urges Andalucía to follow the model of Extremadura, where the socialist PSOE and Partido Popular recently reached agreement on an amnesty scheme for illegal homes that opens the way for the regularisation of all but those built on especially protected land.
Government urges more property price drops
Unsold housing stock is an anchor on economic recovery, says minister
By Oliver McIntyre
DESPITE double-digit price drops on property since the economic crisis began, the government last week urged developers, promoters and banks to slash prices further in order to sell off the country's huge unsold housing stock.
With as many as a million homes standing unsold nationwide, the overstock is an anchor on the housing market and the economy as a whole, said the public works minister, José Blanco, appearing last week before the Congressional Housing Commission.
He urged the sector to offer "more competitive prices on those types of homes and properties where the oversupply is most acute," such as in coastal zones.
While acknowledging that the process is "delicate and cannot be done suddenly," Sr Blanco warned that it also cannot "be drawn out interminably because it will drag down our capacity for economic recovery."
The minister said the government, which is in the throes of trying to reduce the country's deficit, has little ability to help jumpstart home sales through incentives or fiscal policy. The government stands firm on its elimination in January of house-purchase tax deductions for people who earn more than 24,000 euros a year, he said.
However, developers say prices have already dropped as far as they can and that in many cases further reductions would put them below the value of the bank loans used to finance their construction. This is the case in Málaga, for example, says the province's Builders and Developers Association (ACP), citing discounts of up to 30 and 40 per cent that were offered at the recent SIMed property fair.
Interest rates rising
Meanwhile, existing homeowners are facing increasing interest rates as the Euribor index - the most widely used in Spain to calculate the interest rates on variable-rate mortgage loans - continues its upward creep. The Euribor ended November at 1.54 per cent, its highest since June 2009. For those with a rate adjustment based on the November Euribor, the monthly payment on an average loan of 150,000 euros would increase by around 21 euros - or more than 250 euros over the course of a year.
Drivers warned of imminent licence loss
Tráfico sending letters to those with three or less points left on their licence
By Dave Jamieson
THOUSANDS of drivers are to receive a letter warning that they have three or fewer points left on their driving licences. The advice from Tráfico reminds them another offence could mean the loss of permission to drive.
The Dirección General de Tráfico is posting a total of 108,256 notices to road users who are on the brink of being banned from driving motor vehicles. It points out that the ban would last six months and require them to take a course in road safety at a cost of more than 350 euros. Offenders also have to re-take the driving test and the letter warns that driving without a licence is a punishable offence.
In the first 10 months of the year more than 35,000 drivers had their licences revoked, of whom a quarter were novice drivers. The director of Tráfico, Pere Navarro, said last week that some drivers may not be aware that they had lost licence points and are thus not worried about their position.
Sr Navarro also pointed out that the number of traffic accidents has risen over the last three months following 34 consecutive months during which numbers had fallen, and blamed excessive speed as the principal cause. He was speaking ahead of the long holiday weekend during which Tráfico expected 6.9 million traffic movements between last Friday afternoon and midnight last night.