THE clock is ticking in the battle to save the last natural jewel on the Nerja coastline from the clutches of developers who want ANOTHER golf resort.

THE battle lines have been drawn between green groups and wealthy developers over one of Andalucia’s last undeveloped stretches of coastline.

At stake is the future of what is claimed to be the last unspoilt stretch of Malaga’s eastern Costa del Sol. Soon it could be riddled with bunkers and fairways.

Sociedad Azucarera Larios SA plans to develop a 250-hectare strip of coastal land a stone’s throw from the tranquil village of Maro, near Nerja, into an 18-hole PGA-standard golf course, luxury hotel and around 700 luxury homes.

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SACRED: The old Larios sugar mill is due to be demolished to make way for a luxury hotel

The project has been touted by the company as a complete transformation of the area – as seen in a glitzy promotional video doing the rounds on websites like Conde Nast Traveler – ridding the hillsides of ‘unsightly ‘farmland’ and ‘hippies’ who currently call the district their home. It also features renowned American golf course designer Cabell Robinson, who is responsible for some of the region’s finest courses. 

Nerja town hall, led by controversial mayor Jose Alberto Armijo (PP), has given the plan his full backing. Echoing the sentiments of the developers, he is eager to ‘clean up the area’ and bring in some much needed income and jobs.

But the project, while popular with some locals, has met with ferocious opposition, not only from Armijo’s political rivals but also from expat residents and environmental groups.

They accuse the developers and town hall of using ‘underhand tactics’ to make the so-called Maro Golf project happen by sowing the seeds for the project over the last 25 years.

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LANDOWNERS: Deborah Fountain and Paco Galvez are leading the charge against Larios SL.

“For years, the landowners have been paying off people to give up their land, causing great rifts in families as some people want to sell and others, with long lines of farming heritage, do not,” explained expat Deborah Fountain, 53, a retired hairdresser from London.

“Families who have worked this land for over four generations have been torn apart,” she continued. 

The Adelante political coalition in Nerja has also explained that for years, Larios has allowed settlers to live on the land for next to no rent, yet now is using them as a political tool to develop the area.

“This situation of neglect has been encouraged by renting out the land to people, many of whom are not in agriculture at all. This way they already have an excuse to say that you have to end this situation of abandonment of the land when it is them themselves that have caused it.” explained Andres Jimenez Perez, a member of Izquierda Unida in Nerja.  

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UNION: The farmers of Maro have created a way of working with the environment

Fountain, along with her husband Paco Galvez, are members of the official opposition platform, Otro Maro y Nerja es Posible. She has lived in the area for 35 years and the couple have an idyllic life on a smallholding.

“We have been fighting this for years but it is forever a losing battle,” explained Galvez.

And now they have garnered strong support for their cause with the likes of Ecologistas en Accion and Greenpeace Spain  on board, as well as Royal Holloway,  University of London, whose students visit the site every year as part of their geology syllabus.

There are also 19,000 signatures and counting for their Change.org petition.

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PICTURESQUE: Maro is a stunning, tranquil community which will potentially be destroyed if the golf course goes ahead

Ecologistas en Accion has also been extremely vocal in its opposition to the project and the new government bill that would allow it to come to fruition (see Free-for-all, inset).

During its annual ‘Atila’ awards, the group singled out Andalucia President Juanma Moreno Armijo for gongs for their ‘eagerness to destroy’ the coastline.

The bill in question (LISTA, the ‘Law for the Promotion of Sustainability of the Territory of Andalucia), aims to simplify the categorisation of undeveloped land.

But it means that, potentially, even protected land could be opened up to developers, as seen in two places of the fragile and endangered Cabo de Gata Natural park, in Almeria.

In response to the massive backlash, Nieves Atencia, Nerja councillor for urban planning, has quashed any claims of a secret agreement between Larios and the PP.

“I urge the opposition to this to be more responsible and to change their approach to a more constructive one, instead of seeking media prominence,” she said.  

However local Podemos spokesperson Juan Jose Aido Haro, told the Olive Press that his party strongly opposes the plans. 

“We are against developing this project. It has been farmland for many generations,” he said.

“The golf course is just an excuse to build a luxury hotel and hundreds of homes for tourists. Its implementation would have a completely negative influence on Maro.”

Meanwhile, the Otro Maro groups insist the job claims are inflated, with the average golf course only employing on average 16 people.

“And do you really think they will use local builders?” said Deborah, “They will bring in whoever comes cheapest.”

Her sentiments are echoed by fellow Maro resident expat Graham, a retired financier from Dublin who has owned a plot of land in the area for five years.

“I came here for the scenery, the ruggedness and tranquillity but if they go ahead with the golf course, I’m sure many people will want to relocate,” he said.

The row is underscored by the recent struggles of neighbouring Baviera Golf, 15 minutes along the coast in Caleta de Velez, which has fallen on hard times, as have many of the other 50-plus golf courses along the Costa del Sol, with some even closing including Monte Mayor in Marbella.

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CAUTIONARY TALE: Nearby Baviera Golf was only saved from bankruptcy by an 11th hour buyout

Baviera went into receivership last year, threatening jobs, and only an 11th hour buyout saved it from closure. 

But despite this, manager Aurora del Rio Garces remains upbeat about the new Maro project. “It would create another golf destination east of Malaga,” she said.

Among other locals in favour of the course, Ana Guierro, who works at the Puente Aguila bar near the Cuevas de Nerja, said: “It’s a good idea, it will bring many opportunities to the area.”  

Meanwhile, there are rumblings of discontent behind the scenes at Larios Azucares SL, with one of the four main shareholders expressing concern over the financial investment in the project, raising questions over the management of the company.

Barbara Gutierrez-Maturana-Larios, along with her mother and sister, insist that the company does not have the assets to invest €300 million into the project.

They are also concerned over internal differences in the running of the company and are calling for it to be disbanded, putting the whole project in doubt unless a truce can be worked out.

And with the new law coming into force in Sevilla, it means they could potentially put pen to paper this summer on a project that could tear this last remaining oasis of tranquillity apart.

The Olive Press has approached Sociedad Azucarera Larios SA and Nerja Town Council for comment.

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