A honest mayor? (well sort of honest)


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    ‘Promoters and Constructors must fund the solution for the illegal houses’
    El Mundo, 17 April 2008. Juan Carlos Serrano, Luis Criado, Mariano Lopez, Javier Martinez de la Horra and Pablo E. Requena.

    ALMERIA – Albox has always been popular. As demonstrated by successive Pardido Popular local councils. However, in the last municipal elections which took place on 27 May 2007, the PSOE with Jose Garcia at its head ousted the PP with an absolute majority in this municipality. In these elections the socialists gained 11 seats, the populares 4 and the Partido de Almeria two.

    Now Jose Garcia Navarro faces the challenge of modernizing a locality of more than 10,000 inhabitants, many of who are of other nationalities, where even today there are some neighborhoods that do not have basic sanitation or running water.

    Q. You are relaxed. In spite of what has happened in Zurgena?

    A. Well, I think that this is the result of what has been done over the previous years. There is no point in lamentations, we must correct the mistakes and face the future with optimism.
    Q. Do you think that Albox is affected by this situation in the Almanzora Valley?

    A. I believe that it affects all of us in the towns of the area and none of us benefit from it. Although if it is true that irregularities have been committed, everyone should face up to their responsibilities. All I can say is that we have always been scrupulous on this issue, and that the law exists to be complied with, and it is up to the public authorities to ensure compliance. Therefore, let us leave the judicial system to do its work. It is up to the judicial powers to make a ruling.
    Q. How many illegal houses are there in Albox?

    A. That’s a good question. We are making a study to find out exactly how many there are in Albox. We are not doing this to make any type of judicial or administrative problems but rather to plan solutions: see where they are located, how many there are etc etc. Paraphrasing the previous ruling council, I believe that there are more than 1,500 illegal houses. Between 1,500 and 2,000. But we have not finalized this study, we are working with data from 2004. Therefore, apart from satellite data, we have to do field work, going from one house to another to see which are legal and which are not.
    Q. Like Zurgena, they are difficult to identify?

    A. I believe they have been perfectly identified. Obviously, you will always be sidetracked by houses that are not in the system, but the vast majority has been identified. The problem of Albox is not only the legality or illegality of houses, but we have another added problem ie. that all these houses lack the most basic services: sewage, piped water, street lighting, asphalt etc. These are the problems of the houses that are ‘fuera de la Ordenacion’ in Albox. It is unfair, and we have to seek legal ways to regularize these houses through the PGOU or the Sub Regional plan. But above all it will require major actions and investment to provide these services. And that is the big problem because Albox Council does not have the means or economic resources to deal with it. Other towns knew how to plan for this, regardless of whether or not the houses are within the law, via the ‘planes parciales’, and the first thing that they urbanized was urbanizations, forgive the repetition. Therefore, these basic services are covered. Albox does not have this and this is the fundamental problem.
    Q. Have you detected, as mayor, indications of any illegality in the granting of licenses similar to the situation in Zurgena?

    A. I will be very circumspect on that subject, because it is not really a matter for me, but for the judiciary. We are being very respectful the work that the judiciary has asked us to do. There is a direct collaboration, both with the Direccion General de Disciplina Urbanistica de la Junta as with the courts in Huércal-Overa to provide all the documentation asked of us. Evidence? I don’t know. I am not the right person to answer this question.
    Q. Have you, as mayor, noted fear in the population as a result of the intervention in Zurgena?

    A. I think that after the intervention in Zurgena, no one is indifferent to this situation. There is fear because nobody knows what is going to happen next. But there is also calm in the town of Albox because we do not know that the conditions which allegedly occurred in Zurgena have also happened in our municipality. In this respect, the residents, neighbors, promoters etc are very calm, as from day to day there is no documentation that makes us nervous.
    Q. Calm but fearful….fearful of whom?

    A. Really a fear that the construction sector, which in recent years has been the engine of the economy Albox and other towns of the area, continues to decline. If we add the recent scandals to the standstill in the sector, it results in nothing that is beneficial for the future economic development of the region. Therefore, there is this fear that there may be more proceedings, which will further damage this sector. Therefore, it is fear, fear of not knowing what is going to happen to this sector.
    Q. Do you have a theory of how this situation of illegal homes came about?

    A. The theory is that municipalities, in their day, and I am talking about 1992, failed to anticipate this massive boom of investors (mostly British). Therefore, they did not adapt their planning for this type of growth. That’s my theory. For example, Arboleas accommodated that growth, adapted its normas subsidiarias to this future growth and created pockets of suelo urbanisable to accommodate the construction boom. Albox failed to anticipate this, as is the only town in Almanzora which has PGOU dating from 1983, with no suitable changes to create pockets of land to accommodate the hugh number of buildings. Now we are paying the consequences.
    Q. Hasn’t the passivity of the Junta aided this phenomenon?

    A. Well, I think that it is true that the public administrations, both the Junta and the council, have been acquiescence to this anarchic development, but we must take into account that in Albox, the responsibility for urban planning rested with the town council because it is they who must comply with the law.
    Q. How do you think the Zurgena case has affected the image of the area?

    A. Nobody benefits from this type of news. The case of Zurgena has not affected the slowdown in construction business, since it was happening anyway. But it is true that the region is being tainted by this issue. The important thing is that the judicial investigation ends as soon as possible, identifying those responsible (if anybody). That will help the Almanzora valley.
    Q. With respect to the houses built on rustic land, has a budget been worked out to provide sanitation?

    A. No. What we are going to do is an assessment, we will analyse how many houses there are, where they are located, and so on. Once this is clear, there will be negotiations. But it would be unfair to use public money to pay for these services, since it is the responsibility of the developers and builders. Therefore, we will have to get in touch with developers, builders and tenants to, between them, pay the bill. I think it is unfair that we do with the taxes of all residents. I have talked to many promoters and they are being reasonable.
    Q. Is the solution to tackle the promoters?

    A. Absolutely, they are the ones who have been making a profit from this situation.
    Q. The Junta has a plan for this?

    A. No. Not at all. This is something from Albox. It is a plan of our own council. First we will find them, as many as possible. And tell them that they now have to do what they failed to do previously. Legality or illegality….we will have to address this within the sub regional plan for Almanzora because it is impossible to do so within the PGOU.
    Q. But these houses have a license of first occupation?

    A. No . They do not have building licenses. But there is a contradiction here because some of them paid the corresponding fee but do not have a building license.
    Q. None of them have building licenses?

    A. None of them. There are only 11 houses that have building licenses, with unfavorable reports from the Comision Provincial de Urbanismo, which resulted in 11 denuncias by the Junta de Andalucia against Albox Council. They are the only ones with building licenses.
    Q. Does that excuse the Council by omission or commission?

    A. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for non compliance. I believe that by omission or commission, the council is responsible.
    Q. Is the building crisis felt especially here?

    A. Yes. Everything is changing. Also, it is true that here we had a phantom boom, overnight everyone was a constructor. What happens now? Now we are left with the professional, the ones that are really constructors and promoters. The rest are disappearing.
    Q. Does Tomas Zurano work in Albox. Has he promotions here?

    A. No. He has nothing here. He is the President of the Acociacion para el Desarrollo Urbanistica del Almanzora. But this association was created in its day to support a perspective that no longer exists. It exists but does not operate.
    Q. When 6 patrols of the Guardia Civil arrived in Albox on the day that the operation in Zurgena commenced… how did the town react?

    A. There was not a lot of reaction in Albox. I learned about it at mid-day because a resident told me that he was watching the judicial police take documents from two locations in the municipality. But I did not know anything about it. The truth is that it was strange to see them with balaclavas and suchlike, a spectacle which, in my opinion, was unnecessary. But there was no notable reaction.
    Q. Focusing on Albox. How is the plan to change the image of the rambla?

    A. The plan is already finalized. In general, the plan is to create a canal in the center of the ramble which divides the town in the neighborhood of La Loma. We will plant native species on both sides, we will reinstate the river and so on. The work will mark a turning point for Albox. The total cost is 5.5 million euros.
    Q. How many nationalities are there in Albox?

    A. The latest information tells us that there are 24 distinct nationalities. Between 10% and 15% of the immigrant population arrived in the boom years of migration. But it has fallen substantially. The British remain, but the Pakistani, Romanians, Lithuanians, … are reducing.
    Q. You are a council of 11 PSOE, 4 PP and 2 PAL. How are the relations between the different parties?

    A. Relations are very cordial. I have been in politics for 15 years and I have always stated that in reality one does always agree with all of the councilors. Yes it is true that important decisions fall to the majority team. It is also true that there is a vote for all the council members. I as mayor try to ensure this and as a result I do not have any problems with any council members. Because, what it is all about after the elections is to work together for the benefit of the municipality.
    Q. Those accused in Zurgena have excused their crimes by arguing that irregularities exist in other municipalities of the area governed by the PSOE. Are you afraid that you will be accused?

    A. Albox has nothing to hide. We are complying with all requests for documentation. At the same time there are proceedings open against promoters and constructors from here, including against the Council.

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