Torrevieja was once a pretty traditional Spanish town on the Costa Blanca. Thanks to mindless urban planning, greed, corruption, and a runaway property boom, it has become one of the least attractive towns on the Spanish coast. And now that the property boom is over, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Torrevieja started off its modern history as a budget tourist destination, but before long building and selling property to budget tourists became the most profitable game in town. Of the 95,000 local residents, 53% are foreigners, many of them pensioners on a tight budget.
By the end of the boom the local economy was heavily dependent upon real estate, and having put all its eggs in one basket, Torrevieja runs the risk of ending up a basket case.
According to a recent article in the Spanish press the situation in Torrevieja is deteriorating rapidly. Official unemployment has surged from 1,700 in 2005 to more than 5,000 today. Given that the construction sector employs an army of illegal immigrants, who are the first to lose their jobs, real unemployment is likely to be much higher. Estate agents aren’t selling anything, developers are going bust, retail sales are falling by 10% to 15%, local business are struggling, and taxi drivers report that trade is down by 60% to 70%. Social problems such as crime are growing, and there is litter and graffiti everywhere.
What is the local mayor’s solution to the problem? More building, of course. Pedro Ángel Hernández Mateo, of the right of centre PP party, and implicated in corruption scandals, wants more town hall control over planning and building in the municipality. In his opinion, building more urbanisations is the future for Torrevieja’s economy. He has also had a good rant about anyone who has ever criticized over-development in the region, including the EU.
Meanwhile, a town hall that relied heavily on building licence fees now has financial problems, as the local tax take falls by 7 million Euros thanks to the property crisis.
If you want to know how not to develop a local economy, and how not to plan a town, look no further than Torrevieja.