IT has become the symbol of the savage destruction of Spain’s coastline, a prime example of the wanton disregard some developers have towards the Mediterranean littoral. The Algarrobico hotel – built on 16 hectares of protected park land – is a mass of cement encroaching upon western Europe’s largest maritime-terrain nature reserve.
Both regional and central government have moved to rid the coast of Almeria of this eyesore, with both administrations promising to expropriate the land upon which the hotel stands and rid the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park of the 411-bed complex.
But for the paintbrushes of a few environmentalists who managed to daub the words “illegal hotel” upon its facade, the building remains untouched.
Greenpeace even alleges work is continuing on the hotel, a claim denied by Azata del Sol, the development company behind the multi-million-euro project.
What is more, the developers maintain that the expropriation and demolition orders are “illegal,” claiming that the company has the correct, legal documentation – given by the town hall in nearby Carboneras – allowing them to build on that plot of land.
This argument is under no doubt. Until proven otherwise, it must be assumed the company has always acted in good faith. However, that the hotel has mobilised protests not only from local residents but environmentalists, the judiciary and both regional and national governments means something is possibly not quite right.
The first known demonstrations came shortly after work on the hotel started in May 2003 when a group of local residents – calling themselves the Friends of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park – started an internet campaign raising awareness of the destruction being causing by the construction of the hotel.
Green groups such as Ecologistas en Accion and Greenpeace soon took up the cause, producing documentation proving the multi-million-euro complex was being built on protected land, that the natural resources could in no way support such a project and that it contravenes national coast laws in being too close to the beach (barely metres from the shore).
But still work continued unhindered.
On February 20, 2006, Greenpeace staged a symbolic demolition of the hotel, scaling the security fences and knocking down part of an exterior wall. Then three days later, an Almería court issued a stop order on construction of the hotel, stating its licence “illegal.”
Three months later, in May 2006, Junta de Andalucía president Manuel Chaves said the hotel would be forcibly bought and subsequently demolished by the regional government. The proposed method? This 20-storey leviathan of concrete would be brought down by dynamite.
The crux of the regional government’s argument is found way back in 1999, when the project was little further on than at its planning stages. According to Junta lawyers – who had checked the project’s documentation in the most minute detail, the original seller of the land had not crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s.
The seller was under the obligation of communicating to the Junta his – or her – intention to sell; the regional government could then exercise its right of first refusal.
This was apparently not done and Azata del Sol were over the proverbial barrel.
What next for the development company, who wanted to protect their own interests? Faced with a no-win situation, they slapped a prohibitive price tag on the semi-complete hotel to complicate its forced sale.
To fulfil the promise of expropriation and demolition, the regional government would have to shell out a cool 300 million euros to purchase El Algarrobico.
The Junta believes the finca carries a less eye-watering price – 2.3 million euros, the price of the 16-hectare plot of land contained on its deeds.
The developers, meanwhile, have maintained the price stands and that they are in “no negotiations with any administration.”
What has happened since the demolition order? Nothing. Well, not according to Greenpeace. The group alleges work on the complex is ongoing. And to draw public attention to the allegation, 30 activists disembarked from the vessel Rainbow Warrior, which was moored out to sea, and painted the words “Illegal Hotel in letters three-storeys high.
“Work is continuing on this European symbol of coastal speculation,” Juan López Uralde, director of Greenpeace-España, said.
As reported in issue 29 of the Olive Press, Azata del Sol vehemently deny this accusation. A company spokesman even furthered that while work is paralysed, the hotel is slowly being eroded by the elements.
“Work was stopped the moment we were notified of the stop order. As a consequence essential damp-proofing could not be done, resulting in damage to the floors, ceilings and other important fittings,” Antonio Baena claimed.
However, judicial sources have confirmed the company has sought permission to put a halt to this deterioration. This request, however, was turned down. Under Spanish law, a stop order can only be reversed if the construction is in serious danger of falling down.
So, what is to become of the soap opera that is El Algarrobico? Early last month, Fuensanta Coves, the environment chief at the Junta de Andalucía, promised a legal announcement concerning the hotel would be made “in the next few days.” July soon became August – the month when Spain traditionally shuts down and little business is done. This announcement is now expected in September. It is only then can we all expect some closure and allow the authorities to return the beach at Algarrobico to its once pristine state.
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