Thursday, August 10, 2017

 

More Bad News for the Priors

It's a well-known story, how almost ten years ago, Len and Helen Prior watched as a bulldozer operated by the provincial representative of the Junta de Andalucía knocked down their house in a quiet area outside the town of Vera (Almería). There weren't any particular plans for the location, it wasn't on a motorway, or a landing strip or a sewage station or a beach or a rare plantation or in a beauty spot or on a flood plain. It's just a quiet area behind Vera. There are a few other houses there, and ten years later, they are still all there, just as they were then.
So what was the point?
It certainly had an effect: untold millions of euros never made it to Almería, which then, in 2008, had an unemployment rate in the mid thirties - about the highest unemployment of anywhere in the whole of Europe. The Junta de Andalucía, which is so anal that it knows to the exact head how many sheep there are in the territory (seriously, they're all microchipped), airily suggested at the time that there were some 300,000 illegal properties stretched across Andalucía - all built while someone, everyone, was looking the other way... at least until the cheques cleared.
Ten years later, there are still a few court cases - even a few mayors or planners being sent down (always from other parties than the PSOE, of course). As for the home-owners, who often had an illegal house with no water or electricity, well, they could usually go and whistle Dixie.
A lawyer called Gerardo Vásquez, an association called the AUAN, the international press and a number of other concerned people put some dents in this astonishing situation, and the Junta de Andalucía's legislators eventually came up with a new Spanish word to describe these homes: 'alegal' which means neither legal nor illegal. Illegalish, perhaps. So much the better. A climb down indeed. In a recent case, the mayor of another non-socialist Almería town went to jail... but the houses were allowed to stand. Empty, vandalised and useless, but justice tempered with mercy was seen to prevail.
The Priors, almost ten years later, are still living in the ruins of their home. This of course is very contrary of them, since they should have long since slipped away back to the UK to be forgotten.
They live in the garage (unbelievably, it was on a separate deed and thus escaped the demolition), plus some sheds they've built, and surrounded by their garden and their swimming pool which also escaped the attack.
Vera Town Hall was declared the guilty party (it was run by the Partido Andalucista at the time of the events described) but the Priors never received compensation.
Now, as the authorities continue to ignore this atrocious attack on Len and Helen's civil rights, we hear that the Town Hall is now claiming some 24,843€ in legal costs against them.
Len says he'll go to jail before he pays. 




Tuesday, August 08, 2017

 

How Many Tourists are 'Enough'?



Tourism brings untold wealth and a huge number of jobs to Spain – yet there are now some voices raised against this summer onslaught.

Hotels often use the ‘all-inclusive’ plan, which means that the clients can drink and eat for free – within their hotel. The bar round the corner may not be too pleased, but it won’t be a member of a wealthy gremio: an association, a guild really, of powerful businessmen with ‘friends in high places’. The hotels, whether all-inclusive or not, not only set the standards for tourism (being, as it were, the owners of ‘expert opinion on all matters to do with tourism’), they also frown on anyone who stays in any establishment that isn’t one of their own.

While we wait for a caution for putting up friends in our guest bedroom, we already have fresh, stringent rules in place against short-term rentals. Leading the rentals is the Airbnb company, which puts your apartment or spare room on its books. The level of attack against this service is intense, with daily press stories bemoaning the opening up of guest-rooms to a different kind of visitor, and income to a different kind of small businessperson. In the Balearics, apparently, you can get a 40,000€ fine for renting your place to tourists. Meanwhile, a story this week in El Independiente talks of 50,000 Airbnb offers in Ibiza, 20,500 in Barcelona and over 16,000 in Madrid – money that the hotels simply aren’t getting. Seventy five million tourists visited Spain from abroad last year, and many millions more Spaniards also hit the beaches or the museums or perhaps went off to see their relatives in their pueblo. One way or another (with this heat), a lot of beer was drunk.

In some cases, following the beer and perhaps the consumption of other stimulating products available on the street corner, damage was done to the local infrastructure. Someone being sick in the garden, some kids playing their music loud around the pool, a street light wilfully broken. Ten young people sharing (and destroying) a two-bed apartment... The residents don’t like this behaviour: the trickle-down of tourist money never makes it to them. Only the noise, the queues, the inconvenience and the hassle.

How much money does tourism bring to Spain? 16% of Spain’s GDP apparently comes from the visitors. But not much of that makes it to your particular pocket if you are a waiter. An article in Iniciativa Debate talks of twelve hour shifts, seven days a week work (the owner only declares four) for 700 euros per month. The same source looks at room cleaners who get 1,50€ per room. It talks of summer rent increases from 500 to 900 euros and asks: ‘Do you suffer from turismofobia’?

So, as we see in El Español, we get groups of people, or extreme left wing gangs, or simple graffitists, or perhaps some fed-up burgers, who have had enough. They start complaining about the hoards of visitors and put up posters or graffiti of the ‘tourist go home’ variety as they start to make their presence felt.  The Government has even gone as far as to threaten a harsh reaction to anyone who practices anti-tourist activities.

Some of the tourists aren’t very happy either, with new (rather pointless) procedures at the airports adding long impatient queues for holidaymakers. What is this? Our money not good enough, they ask. The Olive Press talks here of ‘Why you may have to queue for four hours at Spanish airports’ (It’s as bad as getting into Gibraltar!).

Tourism brings jobs and wealth, but it also brings inconvenience, rental hikes, vandalism and – sometimes even airport strikes. Like most things in life – there’s the good and the bad. Our advice: head for the hills!

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