Tempers fray in Tarifa

Tarifa town

Tarifa town

Tempers are starting to fray in Tarifa over plans to develop a big new port that detractors say will damage Tarifa’s identity as one of Spain’s grooviest coastal towns, where hippy trail meets surfer dude. Opinions in Tarifa are split over the plans, and activists opposing them have been beaten up by thugs thought to be from a political party in favour of the new port.

Back in the 60s Tarifa gained a reputation as a cool place to stay on the hippy trail to North Africa, it’s Moorish architecture and influence giving it a certain charm that bewitched boxed hippies trying to get to Morocco. In the 80s came the windsurfers, attracted by the fabulous winds blowing consistently through the straits of Gibraltar. The result was hippy dude, and trendy young things with money have been flocking to Tarifa ever since. It is Tarifa’s unique identity and relative lack of over development and mass tourism that keeps them coming, many of them looking to buy property in Tarifa.

The problem is not all of Tarifa’s residents have benefited from Tarifa’s development, and some locals would like to see more infrastructure, building, tourists, and jobs. Needless to say, the local building industry is in favour of the chance to build on a bigger scale, regardless of the damage it might do Tarifa’s unique charm.

Hence the plan, developed by the Port Authority of Algeciras, to make the port at Tarifa three times bigger, with commercial and residential developments thrown in.

In the other corner, against the plan, is ‘Tarifa Si’ (www.tarifasi.org), an umbrella group of local environmentalists, left wingers, and other activists, presided over by Guillermo Pérez Villalta, a well-known Spanish artist from the ‘Movida Madrileña’ (the countercultural movement that took off in Madrid during the Spanish transition after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975).

In a recent speech lambasting the plans Perez observed that “people who confuse progress with cement are trashy and ignorant.” Never a truer word was spoken, and he might also have said that plenty of “trashy and ignorant” people have been in charge of development on the Spanish coast in the last few decades. Many of them are now rolling in money.

Far from being thanked for trying to speak truth to power, Perez and his partner Fernando Boix were beaten up by thugs from a bar that allegedly serves as the informal office of the local branch of the People’s Party, Spain’s main opposition party, which traditionally has close ties to developers.

It appears that some local politicians and businessmen don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, what it is about Tarifa that makes it special. As Ezequiel Andreu, a left wing activist, explained to the Spanish press, “this plan would damage the environment and turn Tarifa into a mass development just like Marbella. It would collide head on with the model of tourism based on natural values that we has evolved.”

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About Mark Stücklin

Mark Stücklin is a Barcelona-based property market analyst and consultant, and author of the 'Spanish Property Doctor' column in the Sunday Times (2005 - 2008). He can be reached by email on ms@spanishpropertyinsight.com.