Costa del Sol News - 28th January 2011

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Legal precedent set for owners of illegal homes

Expat pressure groups applaud the judge's ruling to allow utility connections

By Dave Jamieson and Richard Torné

THOUSDANDS of homes illegally-built on non-urbanisable land could now successfully apply to have water and power supplies connected following a ruling from an Almería court last week.

The judge's decision could set a precedent for thousands of illegal properties in the region of Andalucía whose owners are also without basic services such as water and electricity.

Judge Jesús Rivera of Administrative Court Number Three in Almería said that such houses still had the right to essential utilities. He described the Junta's efforts to keep these properties unoccupied as "bordering on the ridiculous".

The case came to court after the council in the inland town of Albox in Almería ordered electricity and water to be connected to a property built more than six years ago in the La Torreta district of the town. In a test case, the town hall issued a licence of occupation to the owners of the house in September 2009, despite there having been no construction licence for the property. This permitted them, amongst other things, to connect to the water and power supplies.

Judge Rivera acknowledged that the house had been built on non-urbanisable land. The Junta regarded this as being in breach of the region's urbanisation legislation, the LOUA, so the town hall's decision was subsequently overturned by the Junta's Ministry of Housing (now part of the Ministry of Public Works). Albox council then asked for a judicial review of the Ministry's decision in the Administrative courts.


Junta and Málaga town hall pledge to help one of the city's most unique landmarks

By Dave Jamieson and Oliver McIntyre

AUTHORITIES have thrown a lifeline to Málaga's English Cemetery, which was in danger of closing because of a lack of funds.

The Junta de Andalucia announced on Tuesday that it is to fast-track the procedure to declare Málaga's English Cemetery a monument with Bien de Interés Cultural (BIC) status. The Junta's provincial delegate for Málaga, María Gámez, said that the regional government's intention is to "guarantee the [cemetery's] conservation and safety", and that within a period of six months to a year the Cemetery's Foundation will be able to "apply for funds from the Junta de Andalucía, the Ministry of Culture and the European Union".

The regional government's announcement came just a day after Málaga town pledged emergency funding to prevent its imminent closure. 

Mayor Francisco de la Torre (PP) said on Monday that it could be "taken for granted" that the Foundation, which maintains the cemetery, would receive "a part" of the 15,000 euros it urgently needs to avoid imminent closure.  However, he underlined that the cemetery is not a council responsibility. 

The president of the English Cemetery Foundation, Bruce McIntyre, said: "This is very encouraging for the cemetery. It might not save the day completely, but it should stave off the wolf from the door for the next few months while we seek more permanent solutions."

Earlier in the week, Mr McIntyre had told CDSN that the situation was very serious.  He said there were funds to pay the groundskeeper's salary only until the end of January, and, unless urgent finance was found, there would be no one working at the site from February 1.  This would have meant that the cemetery would be closed to the public.

2010 was MAlaga's wettest year ... ever!

By Dave Jamieson

LAST YEAR was the wettest in Málaga since records began in 1942. The province's annual rainfall has exceeded 1,000 litres per square metre in only five years since then and 2010 now tops that list.

Málaga's average annual total is 539 litres, but last year that was more than doubled to 1,207 litres per square metre. Previously, the wettest year was 1962 with 1,162 litres followed by 1996 with 1,155 litres and 1970's 1,154 litres per square metre. The only other year when over 1,000 litres was recorded was 1989 when serious damage was caused and flooding led to the deaths of eight people.

The wettest single day of 2010 was Sunday, December 19, when 133 litres per square metre fell, the first time on record that more than 100 litres has been recorded in one day. The downpour helped that month to be the soggiest of the year. January and November were also particularly wet with a total of over 200 litres per square falling in each month, while April, which normally records little rainfall, was subjected to 111 litres per square metre.

The average maximum temperature for the year was 18.9 degrees, some 0.7 of a degree more than the average since 1942. August was the hottest month with an average 27.2 degrees but it broke records for the number of hot days without a break, thanks to a persistent terral wind.

Search for the child killer of Arriate

By David Eade

ARRIATE is a small peaceful village just 15 minutes drive from Ronda but that sense of calm was shattered last Thursday evening when a fireman, who was part of the search team for 13-year-old María Esther Jiménez, found her battered body in a swimming pool pump house.  Her parents had reported her missing in the early hours of that morning.

She had spent Wednesday evening in Arriate at the bus shelter with school friends, one even capturing her smiling on her digital camera.

At 21.30 she went into a bar for a glass of water. Since the investigation into her death started one witness has come forward to say he saw her at around the same time with a man by a bridge some 100 metres from where her body was found although he was unable to identify him.

Arriate is a close community and within minutes of the family raising the alarm local people and the police were searching the streets and deserted outbuildings to try and find the youngster. The hunt went on until the fireman made the tragic find almost 24 hours after her disappearance.

The owner of the pool house in El Membrillar said the door was usual left unlocked. It has been reported that María Esther had received fatal wounds to the head and police forensic teams removed some heavy objects including a blood covered brick from the site.

The town council met after María Esther was found and declared three days of mourning. After the body was released from the post mortem on Saturday a funeral service was held in the chapel of Arriate's old people's home. On Sunday María Esther was buried in Paterna de la Ribera in Cádiz - her parent's home village.

Third of fatal traffic victims weren't wearing seatbelt

Overall road deaths in Andalucía have dropped 56 per cent in last decade

By Oliver McIntyre

NEARLY  a third of all fatal traffic accident victims in Andalucía last year (31.6 per cent) were not wearing a seatbelt, according to data released last week.  Of the victims who were not wearing a seatbelt, half could have survived the crash had they been wearing one, according to the government delegate in Andalucía, Luís García Garrido, who presented the figures in Sevilla on Friday.

However, the seatbelt-use statistics have improved significantly over the last decade; in 2001, 41 per cent of all fatal accident victims were not wearing one, said Sr García.  The safety figures have improved even more for motorcyclists, with just 3.5 per cent of all fatal victims last year not wearing a helmet, compared to 14 per cent in 2001.

Indeed, road fatality figures in general have improved dramatically over the last decade.  Last year there were 290 road deaths in Andalucía, down 56 per cent from 2001, when there were 665 fatalities.  That reduction came even as the number vehicles on the roads jumped by 37 per cent, from 3.8 million in 2001 to 5.2 million in 2010.  In fact, said Sr Garíca, the current number of traffic fatalities is similar to that seen in the 1960s, "when it is estimated there were little more than 115,000 vehicles in the region."

Last year marked the seventh consecutive year of declining road deaths in Andalucía.  The 2010 figure was down 12 per cent from 2009, showing greater improvement than the nationwide drop of 9.1 per cent.

The number of traffic deaths dropped in all of the region's provinces except for Málaga and Cádiz, which saw increases of 8.7 per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively.

Last year the most common type of fatal accident in the region involved a vehicle running off the road (38 per cent), followed by head-on collisions (18 per cent) and side or frontal-side collisions (also 18 per cent). 

Outdated electric meters could mean unfair charges

Electricity companies not meeting obligation to install new meters, says Facua

By Oliver McIntyre

ELECTRICIY companies are failing to meet their obligation to update old meters with modern digital ones, and the old, outdated equipment could be costing users money, says consumer watchdog Facua.

The group earlier this week filed a complaint with the Industry Ministry against the five big electricity companies - Endesa, Iberdrola, Gas Natural Fenosa, E.On and Hidrocantábrico - as well as the network of smaller distributers that operate in Spain.  It has also put the complaint to the National Energy Commission.

Facua says that under a government mandate the electricity companies should have substituted 30 per cent of all meters before the end of 2010.  "Not only have they only substituted a small number of meters, but they also have not met their obligation to inform users of the date when their new digital meters will be installed," says the group.

It says the majority of existing meters are over 15 years old, meaning "their accuracy is not guaranteed, but in Spain the meters are not subject to periodic inspections to verify their correct functioning."  Thus, consumers could be getting charged "amounts not in accordance with the energy they consume."

Ryanair's boarding pass fine ruled ‘abusive'

Case was brought by a Spanish lawyer who was charged the fine

By Dave Jamieson

A court in Barcelona has ruled that Ryanair cannot make passengers print out their own boarding passes and then charge them 40 euros if they fail to do so.  The court decided that the obligation for issuing a flight ticket lies with the airline itself and not with the passenger, and declared the practice to be "abusive" and "unacceptable."

The ruling, which will set a precedent for other airlines, was given before Christmas but only made public last week.  The case was brought by a Spanish lawyer who was charged 40 euros for not having printed out his boarding pass when he checked in for an internal Ryanair flight in Italy.

Ryanair argued in court that being a "low-cost" airline gave it the right to adopt this policy, and that it had fulfilled its obligation to issue the boarding pass by sending the passenger a computer file to print out.   However, the court ruled that the excuse did "not allow it to alter its basic contractual obligations."

The airline also argued that passengers are all aware of and agree to these conditions when they book, pointing out that passengers can even print the boarding card at any airport terminal if they bring the computer file with them.

The Spanish Consumers' Union welcomed the ruling.  In a statement, it said, "International air traffic laws, to which Ryanair is subject, oblige a transporter to provide the travel document."

Ryanair is to appeal the Spanish ruling which means that the carrier can continue to charge passengers 40 euros for not printing their own boarding passes, pending that appeal.  Travel experts say the case could end up in the EU High Court of Justice.

Smoking inspections to be intensified

Numerous knock-on effects as smokers step outside to light up

By Dave Jamieson

SPAIN'S regional governments are recruiting more inspectors to police the new anti-smoking laws.  Meanwhile, the legislation introduced on January 2 continues to produce side-effects. 

The director general of Public Health, Ildefonso Hernández Aguado, said last week that sanctions were already underway and activity would be increased this month.  He said that all the country's regions were following procedures properly and that fines would be issued promptly. 

He also claimed that those complaining about the new legislation are just making a noise.  In a radio interview on Wednesday, he said that, "There are those who have an interest in concealing the true situation, which is quite normal."

The director confirmed his department would be taking appropriate measures to address the situation, including an intensification of inspections and fines.  However, he said he had received no indications that financial losses, claimed by businesses as a result of the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces, were generalised, and asked for time to make "relevant evaluations."  "No other country has suffered economic losses after applying a law like this," he concluded. 

Meanwhile, the sales of electronic cigarettes in Spain are reported to have soared, while there have been reports from bars and restaurants across the country of an increasing number of customers who have stepped outside to smoke and then disappeared leaving unpaid bills. The Basque government has abandoned its plan to make it illegal to smoke inside a private vehicle when there are children passengers, while a Pontevedra restaurant has parked a van outside, fitted with table, chairs and heater, so that customers do not have to stand in the cold to enjoy a cigarette.