Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: Seaside robbery

Monday, October 23, 2006

Seaside robbery

(To understand the background to this post, if you are interested you need to go here. And here. But of course you are not obliged to. Granny is no bully. She believes in all of you doing your own thing. She apologises too, in advance, if in some of this she is repeating herself, even so. But it may help make some things clearer.

Granny and Beloved went to a meeting at six o'clock on Saturday night, in that seaside village, full of restaurants and tourists - not the package sort. That village loved by locals, near and far, by visiting Spaniards, by visiting everyone else, come to sit in the sun by the sea, eat gambas al ajillo, or papas arrugados, with mojos - Canarian sauces. It is not a resort, far from it, despite the restaurants, despite the odd self-catering lets. It is a nice -very nice - little white-washed village, parked on a black volcanic coast, backed by volcanoes and lava fields, and far from objectionable or inappropriate. The way such a village ought to be. The meeting had nothing to do with the tourists or tourism; it was for the 'vecinos' - a Spanish word hard to translate exactly - 'neighbours' is the nearest; but it means more than neighbours; it means community too, householders, most of them in this case islanders, apart from a Norwegian couple, a German or two and Beloved. All of them, neighbours and/or householders, are now under the serious threat previously mentioned; the threat caused by the Ley de las Costas, that could mean that any time now the village as such could cease to exist. Hence the meeting, taking place in a marquee put up at the far end of the village for next weekend's fiesta; local life carrying on, no matter what. Alongside the organiser, collecting proofs of residence, tax numbers etc, the presence of another, obviously canny, village woman selling green raffle tickets to her conveniently assembled vecinos proves it.

It was a perfect evening. Granny who was less involved - her Beloved is the vecino, in this case, the householder - sat in the sun with a glass of wine looking out to sea, watching the chefs do their twice daily chore of gutting fish, hungry seagulls in attendence. When she wasn't watching them she watched the people arrive for the meeting; babies in push chairs, old men leaning on walking sticks, young, old, middle-aged in jeans, shorts, t-shirts, weekend gear. Even the notary she saw turned up wearing an orange open-necked shirt and jeans. But for the notary, you might have thought it the opening of the fiesta. But it wasn't. The notary's job was to allow the vecinos to prove their identities one by one, to witness and notarise their signatures on the appeal to the National Assembly in Madrid; the appeal asking -begging - that the Ley de las Costas should not mean that village territory a full 100 metres from the sea is land belonging to the state, to be cleared of buildings. That rather, in this case, the state owns only 20 metres between the village and the shore, thereby leaving the majority of village houses and businesses legally in the hands of the vecinos, their rightful owners - or so you'd think. That is the people who bought the houses, as Beloved did, who built them in some cases, in good faith, all under the eye of, approved by, the local town hall, despite the law first passed in 1988, but till recently left in abeyance.

The local mayor by the way, despite the fact it was his town hall issued the approvals took two months from the issue of the legal notices to come to the aid of the vecinos. Mindful presumably of the fact that there are elections next year, he has now leapt into action - providing his tame lawyer to act for the vecinos for free and to legitimise the appeal to Madrid. All of which has heartened everyone, explaining perhaps some of the air of fiesta round the meeting. As everyone was heartened too by the visit of the Spanish Minister for the Environment last week, who reassured them that noone would ride roughshod over them, that their rights as householders would be attended to.

Granny and Beloved too were somewhat heartened by all this. But not for long. That same evening, they had dinner in the company of a man long on the island with contacts all over it, who played Jonah throughout the meal. He said, for instance, that the environment minister knew nothing about the matter; her reassurances were merely hot air. He handed them, for instance, a leaked document setting out the orders against the vecinos and listing previous appeals on similar grounds to the appeal in this case, each and every one of them rejected; the law is the law, said Mr Jonah. To alter the case here, it would have to be repealed; and it won't be, said Mr Jonah. In the best case there are years of legal wrangling ahead making houses unsaleable, causing many householders - including Beloved - considerable financial problems. In the very worst case - and it's quite likely - the properties are not only owned by the government as of now, and so worth nothing, but, far from offering compensation, the government will very kindly let the ex-owners stay in the property they'd previously thought they owned for up to 30 years, and charge them rent for doing so. No, Granny is not joking. The final resort of course is the European Court of Human Rights. But before then every other line of appeal would have to be exhausted. And it would cost thousands. And none of the people here are rich; far from it.

How come, you might ask, that people were not warned before they bought - or built -houses over the past 18 years? This is the kind of thing that should have come up in searches made by their lawyers. In England, for instance,Beloved could have brought a case for negligence against his lawyer for not finding it out. But not here, said Mr Jonah. Here lawyers stick together. Here lawyers won't act against one another. And that is that.

This village is the first to be jumped on by the Ministry for Costas. But every other coastal village on the island is in the line of fire. Every last one of them is the kind of nice village that the more ?discerning tourists and expats retreat to in relief from the horrors of the three resorts. The resorts of course are safe enough. They can abut their Casinos, their Krazy Golf, their Macdonalds and Burger Kings, their Popeye's Bar, their Irish pubs, their Full English Breakfast/Roasts like Mother Made Them outfits hard up against the beach. The resorts are designated urban, unlike the villages, in rural areas; for them, anything goes. And how it goes. In the same municipality as Beloved's village, for instance, the local resort has doubled in size since Granny arrived here first, five years ago, despite the Cabildo - the island council's -embargo on any new development, despite much of the area's designation as rural. The Mayor's solution to that? Re-classify the land. Away from the coast itself, he can get away with murder, ignoring protests from the Cabildo; undoing what's done is much too difficult. He lines his pockets of course in the process; that's what mayors on this island do. (Which is another story.)

Now as Granny pointed out in that previous piece, the Costas law is not all bad; it was drawn up originally to confront the wrecking of the Spanish coastline - noone could object to that who has visited the Costa del Sol. It has had benefits on this island too, as Granny has also pointed out; not least in terms of the vile hotel squatting above the most beautiful beaches on the islands, exceeding even the terms of the dodgy not to say illegal licence (handed out to its Valencian developers by the above mayor, to his certain financial benefit), also due to be pulled down to the delight of the entire island. The problem is that despite the fines paid by those responsible for the illegal horror, despite their enforced contribution to the demolition, it will cost the governments, local, island national, at the very least 20 million euros. The chances are someone will balk at the last minute and there the horror will stay no matter what.

It costs much less to knock down the harmless and pretty villages. Especially if the householders are charged rent for living in their own houses for up to 30 years.

Don't get Granny wrong. She loves Spain and all things Spanish. Well mostly she loves them. But just as she can't help noticing that the Castellanos in general (not so much the Catalans and the Basques and possibly the Galicians) aren't very interested in the environment or organic anything (look at the way Spanish fishermen are emptying the sea of fish, and have to be bullied by Europe into recycling plans and so forth); just as she can't help noticing that they are often brutal to animals (forget the bulls; take the half-starved hunting dogs wandering round on Thursdays and Sundays during the hunting season, but shut up in tiny cages for the rest of the year); she is also beginning to think that they are pretty brutal to people - their own people. And what can any of them do about it? Granny does suspect that if all this goes through, if every shore village on the island is destroyed by order of distant bureaucrats in Madrid, there might be some kind of riot. But what good would that do? Most likely NADA.

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