THE largest purpose built tourist resort in Europe is to be constructed on unspoilt coastline in Murcia, Spain.
Politicians from the region’s ruling Partido Popular party have declassified 11,000 hectares of once protected, virgin coastline to accommodate plans for a huge scale project that will see homes for 60,000 people built.
Central Government, environmentalists and worried local residents are appealing to courts to stop work on the development that will also see five golf courses and 22,000 hotel beds built in the Cabo de Cope-Puntas de Calnegre Regional Park, near the border with Andalusia.
However, judges in Murcia have warned the project will go ahead even if opponents to the project are successful in their appeal as Cope has lost its Natural Park status.
The Government of Murcia has been studying plans to declassify the land since 2001, when the regional Land Law was passed. Critics of this law claim an amendment was added at the eleventh hour that changed the status of thousands of hectares of Murcia coastline.
The exact scale of the declassification is yet unknown but experts at Murcia University claim as much as 14,000 hectares of wild coastline is set to be lost under the law.
The regional Government denies the figure is so high, placing their estimates at 7,000 hectares.
In addition to the homes for 60,000 people, the Marina de Cope project will include 22,000 hotel beds, five golf courses and an artificial marina with room for 2,000 boats. Costing more than 3,800 million euros, the complex will occupy 2,156 hectares, 1,843 of which lost their protected status in 2001.
The regional government has defended its decision, claiming Marina de Cope is of regional interest. The socialist PSOE council of Lorca and the PP conservatives of nearby Águilas have also thrown their weight behind the plan.
According to todosaguilas.com, the latter town’s council website, Marina de Cope will “increase the tourism in the south of Murcia. It will follow a model of quality development and sustainability.”
Madrid and local groups made up of environmentalists and worried residents have appealed to judges at the Supreme Court of Murcia to stop the declassification of land that will allow the project to go ahead.
Local chef David Sánchez said: “The regional government has not considered the environment when they decided to declassify the land. The developers will get a lot of money out of this and the poor will pay.”
Some locals are in favour of the multi-million project. Concha Conejero, a nurse from Murcia, said: “There is a lot of interest in the Murcia coast. If these construction projects create money and employment for people in run-down towns like Aguilas then I am in favour.”
Cope is known by locals as the jewel in Murcia’s crown. Within the Cabo de Cope-Puntas de Calnegre Park, there are eight habitats protected by the European Union.
The area is also home to one of the few remaining populations of spur thigh tortoise (Testudo graeca) in Spain.
Its vegetation is similar to that found at Cabo de Gata, 100 kilometres to the south: dry scrub, semi-desert conditions. However, the area is valuable to construction companies as it contains some of the few remaining kilometres of Mediterranean coastline untouched by development.
A large part of the area in which Marina de Cope is projected was owned by energy company Iberdrola, whose officials had wanted to build a nuclear power station there 25 years ago.
Then in 2004, the company sold 40 per cent of the 328 hectares it owns at Cope to banks Cajamurcia, Bancaja and Caja Castilla-La Mancha for 36 million euros.
The immediate area has also witnessed the opening of a new multi-million-euro dual carriageway recently. The AP7 links Vera in Almería with Cartagena in Murcia. Hugging the Mediterranean coast, the road passes close to where huge scale construction is scheduled to take place. Besides Cope, housing estates and hotel developments are planned for the coastal villages of Los Lobos, Ramonete and Las Palas.
Julia Martínez of Ecologistas en Accion has no doubts the road is, primarily, for La Marina de Cope: “They wanted to build this road for the largest tourist resort in Europe. It conflicts with the sustainability of the coast.”
A deal to build a new international airport 15 kilometres from the city of Murcia was also made on March 30.