Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Almería: So many Houses

The main income for a town hall, where its projects, dreams, plans, trophies… together with those massive wages and social security payments for the (usually) swollen civil servant force… come from the ‘urbanismo’ department. Granting building licences, collecting property taxes, selling off odd bits of public land to developers (for sometimes decidedly bargain rates) and receiving incentives and occasional bequests.

Planning or building should never be a haphazard affair, and town halls are meant to produce a General Plan to drive the municipality forward for the life of the plan, which is for eight years. Since General Plans tend to ‘lock in’ the way forward for the urbanisers, these documents are hard to reach consensus, and many a town hall has ‘fallen’ before these agreements can be ratified and cast in stone – or, rather, concrete (viz. Mojácar three times in the past 20 years).

These plans, once thrashed out by the Good Ole Boys, are then sent to Almería for approval, or redesign.

Imagine if the town hall plans -the PGOU’s - for the entire province of Almería were accepted by the provincial representative of the Junta de Andalucía. We would have – instead of the current 600,000 inhabitants, somewhere around 7,600,000 of us by 2013. Here are the proposed populations (gleaming in the developers’ eyes) in eight years time for a few of our local dusty, dry and sleepy villages.

Cuevas, 500,000. Vera, 400,000. Antas, 200,000. Mojácar, 110,000 (no roads of course...). Bedar, 20,000 and Los Gallardos 25,000. Albox 50,000 and Arboleas 40,000. No doubt, our local friends all plan to have large families in the next few years. Either that, or they hope to sell everything to the foreigners.

There is a debate going on in the province at the moment as to the advisability of building so many ‘homes’. A debate between politicians and builders, urbanisers and property owners: in other words, an excellent cross-section of our community!

Almería is already the fastest growing province in Spain, with 44 new houses per thousand population built in 2005 (compare the second ‘fastest’ province, Guadalajara, at 19 per 1000).

While the residents currently living in those communities are, presumably, reasonably content as things go, increasing the numbers of neighbours by a factor of twenty is not going to improve the quality of life of those who have chosen this province to live their days in, nor, indeed, the quality and quantity of their water, their views, their safety and their society.

Those residents who fail to register themselves on the padrón – the town hall register – are partly responsible for the lack of existing services, whether taxis, policemen, doctors, teachers or – in point of fact – English-speaking personnel (or even, blow me down, British-born personnel) working in the public sector.

The padrón accounts for the number of population. Each person counted allows some small extra funding to the municipality from the government. There is more road-works for the ‘larger’ towns, more help, promotion, more aid and importance for those communities.

A ‘tourist town’ always suffers in some degree from having its population numbers (and therefore its services and funding) being rather lower than the reality. By having a number of residents not bothering to support their community – to their own disadvantage – the problem is shamefully compounded.

In Almería, there are officially 9,800 Brits. The British consul, on the other hand, reckons there are 25,000. That’s better than half of all the British citizens living here not bothering to support passively their adopted communities.

To register on the padrón, just go to your town hall with a copy of your passport, and your escritura or a long-term rental contract. The information is not passed to the tax authorities. Repeat: ‘not’!

Finally, if you are worried about your town growing into a giant residential monster in the years to come, you could be re-assured by being on the padrón, as this puts you (if you are European) onto the voting register: and there are local elections in 2007.
You could vote for moderation.

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