Zarra, the Valencian town with the highest proportion of British residents, is divided over plans for a temporary storage facility for Spain’s nuclear waste. Zarra’s British residents, already struggling with an illegal building scandal, are staying mum on the issue.
Zarra, a town of 547 residents deep in the Valencian Region, near the border with Castilla La Mancha, is a classic example of a rural Spanish town that was slowly dying before an influx of British expats buying homes in the area gave it a new lease of life. Zarra now has the highest proportion of foreign residents (35.8%) in the Valencian Community. Of the 196 foreign registered foreign residents, 175 of them are British. So the British make up 90% of foreign residents, and 32% of the town’s population.
Before the British came along and started buying homes there, Zarra, like many other rural Spanish towns, was in terminal decline. For decades the young had left for the cities in search of work, leaving Zarra to an increasingly elderly, shrinking population. Retired British expats were no panacea, but they did at least create building jobs and demand for services, giving the local economy a bit of a boost.
Unfortunately, like so many other parts of rural southern Spain, where foreign buyers surged in during the property boom, an illegal building scandal has exploded over the heads of the hapless new residents. Juan José Rubio, the former Mayor of Zarra, was arrested for allowing the building of residential properties on rural land, with many of the illegal properties bought by British arrivals. Rubio’s son, also arrested, was the developer who built the properties.
Playing the nuclear card
Now the town is riven by a dispute over whether to host a temporary storage facility for Spain’s nuclear waste, with passions running high on both sides. Those defending the idea argue it will bring money and jobs, whilst those against are worried about the safety issues of living near nuclear waste. “Zarra is already dead” one resident told the press. “There are lots of people without work, the school was on the point of closing, so we are prepared to try anything.”
The British residents, however, are reported to be staying out of the argument. But with 30% of the population, they could influence the decision, so locals are speculating which side they will come out in favour of.
Arguably, as owners of illegal homes, the British residents have a bigger interest in the future of Zarra than even the local Spaniards. The problem with illegal homes is they can’t be sold, so their British owners are stuck in Zarra, with or without nuclear waste on their doorstep. At least the Spaniards can sell up and move away if they want to.