C.L.A.R.O. HOLDS 11th ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
C.L.A.R.O. held its 11th Annual General Meeting in the Asturias Restaurant on 18 November against the background of uncertainties resulting from the Brexit referendum. A hard Brexit which endangered access to free public health care and pension levels would have severe consequences for British citizens individually and since British residents in Orihuela Costa account for nearly 50% of the resident population, if large numbers were to leave Spain and return to the UK, the consequences for the local economy would be very serious. Although, according to the government's declared timetable, British withdrawal from the European Union would not take place before the summer of 2017, and existing rights would not be affected until then, the Annual General Meeting, in the interests of preserving these rights, urged all British citizens living in Orihuela Costa to make sure they have "residencia" status and are registered on the local municipal register (padron), as advised by the British Consulate. Registering to vote and voting in the next municipal election in 2019 would be another way of safeguarding rights.
Members of the newly elected Executive Committee with new President Karl Rainer Failoni in centre, left
The Annual General Meeting considered a Report on the activities of the past year with notable successes including the firm commitment to complete construction within the next 2 years of the long delayed Orihuela Costa Emergency Services Centre with a 24/7 local police station, the sealing of the burning waste tip in Campoamor which no longer emits toxic fumes and the increase in the number of polling stations from 3 to 7 which will greatly facilitate the exercise of the right to vote at the next municipal elections in May, 2019, at which time British residents will still have the right to vote.
The Annual General Meeting adopted unanimously a motion on political strategy for the forthcoming year. It will be C.L.A.R.O.'s aim to continue to fulfil its role as the only political party dedicated to promoting and defending the rights of residents of Orihuela Costa. The minority Popular Party government continues to deny Orihuela Costa adequate services and investments despite receiving some 60% of its revenue from the coast and the minority government, with the support of the Citizens Party, continues to discriminate financially in favour of Orihuela city, their political stronghold. It is vital for C.L.A.R.O to continue to campaign in favour of obtaining a fair and proportionate share in the municipal budget for Orihuela Costa, indispensable for assuring clean streets and maintenance of all our so-called parks and gardens.
Two specific priorities will mark C.L.A.R.O. action in the coming year. Orihuela Costa should have a purpose built Cultural Centre including an auditorium for at least 500 people and rooms for the many groups which organise cultural activities such as choirs, theatre groups and a variety of activities which currently take place in bars and restaurants often at considerable cost. The Cultural Centre should include a professionally run Library to cater for leisure reading ad study facilities for the growing population of young students. Orihuela city has three such Libraries. The Cultural Centre should be located on municipally owned land in the centrally placed parking area of La Zenia Boulevard Commercial Centre.
The second priority will be to campaign for the scandalously delayed pedestrian footbridge over the AP-7 motorway between Lomas de Cabo Roig and Cabo Roig. Despite wide support for residents who risk their lives dodging traffic crossing the road bridge, and despite the fact that funds for the construction of a footbridge exist and were identified by the then C.L.A.R.O. councillor as a bank deposit by a Lomas de Cabo Roig developer, the government continues to delay realisation of this vital infrastructure investment. Extensive new house building in Lomas de Cabo Roig make this an even more urgent priority.
Other priorities will not be ignored by C.L.A.R.O. including its campaign to Save Cala Mosca, the last green area on the Orihuela Costa sea front, from the construction of over 1,500 new houses. As in the past year, C.L.A.R.O. will continue its social activities in the form of Tapas and Chats events in local restaurants and Forums of special interest to coastal residents. All these activities will be accompanied by media action in the press and social networks to promote knowledge of what role C.L.A.R.O. plays in the local community.
Finally, the Annual General Meeting decided unanimously to renew the present members of the Executive Committee for a further year, the only change being that Paul Piccio stands down after a successful year as President and will be succeeded by Karl Rainer Failoni, a long standing member of the Executive Committee, of Austrian nationality with fluent English as well as his native German and knowledge of Spanish.
The historic bull ring in Orihuela which has been a crumbling ruin for the last 30 years is to be saved and turned into a beautiful cultural arena for up to 2,800 persons with museum, garden, playground for children and cafeteria. It will be Orihuela city’s third cultural centre. Already they have the classic Teatro Circo which can seat an audience of 1,000 and the Lonja which is used for exhibitions and has an auditorium with seats for 600. The cost of restoring the bull ring is estimated to be over €400,000.
And where will this money come from?
From Orihuela Costa, obviously. Orihuela Costa with a population equal to that of Orihuela city, has no cultural centre. The many groups which organise cultural and social activities such as choirs, theatre, dance, bridge, indoor sports and simply social groups all have to find and pay for premises in which to organise their activities, mainly in bars and restaurants. Orihuela Costa has no library for leisure reading and study facilities for our nearly 5,000 children and young people. The so-called reading point isolated, stocked with second hand books was run by volunteers. An unviable half measure, it was closed some time ago. Orihuela city has three splendid public libraries with professional staff.
In the recent public hearings for the 2017 budget, C.L.A.R.O., the Federation of Associations of Orihuela Costa and an interested resident put forward proposals for a cultural centre in Orihuela Costa, including a Library, to be situated on municipal land in the parking area of the centrally placed La Zenia Boulevard Commercial Centre. The Mayor said on the occasion of the budget hearing that there would be left over funds from previous financial years and Orihuela Costa could look forward soon to some attractive investments in infrastructure and social facilities. He did not refer to the rumour that a so-called cultural centre would be housed in an inappropriate empty shell of a building isolated, kilometres from the centre of Orihuela Costa, along the canal road in Villamartin, with no parking facilities, beside an abandoned social housing project. Nor did he apologise for the fact that year after year, Orihuela Costa gets no benefit whatsoever from the million euro annual cultural budget. The reason: because Orihuela Costa it has no facilities for hosting events!!
Alas, we are being cheated again of our rights. At first the Mayor was reported to be intending to take the money for the revamped bull ring from funds set aside to expropriate land to be used to complete the coastal promenade between Cala Capitan and Cala Mosca. Such disrespect for an emblematic project to enhance the Orihuela Costa coastline would not have been surprising. Fortunately, this scheme proved unworkable otherwise we could have said goodbye for ever to a completed coastal promenade, perhaps the only jewel in Orihueal Costa’s otherwise hollow crown. Now the funds to revamp the ruined bullring are apparently to be taken from the left over funds from previous years – the ones half-promised by the Mayor for Orihuela Costa.
Bad luck Orihuela Costa. Once again we are to be victims of shabby, shameful treatment when a revived housing boom is expanding the population of Orihuela Costa, swelling the coffers of the Orihuela Town Hall and aggravating the deficiencies in services and facilities from which we suffer. The Orihuela city political parties have no shame. Discrimination and exploitation are the contributions they make to Orihuela Costa without acknowledging that without the income from the coast, the city would suffer a tremendous reduction in services, cultural and sporting facilities and quality of life in general.
Robbing Orihuela Costa of the money needed to improve our quality of life in order to revamp the bullring and create a third cultural centre in Orihuela city, should be a red rag to the bull of Orihuela Costa’s respectful, law abiding, tax paying for nothing-in-return residents
A public hearing took place in the Playa Flamenca office of the Town Hall on 2 September. It was attended by the Mayor of Orihuela, the Budget Councillor and several other councillors including the Councillor for the Coordination of the Coast. The hearing offered the opportunity for coastal residents to make proposals for next year's municipal budget. There was a good attendance and participation from political parties, the Federation of Associations of Orihuela Costa and a number of individual residents.
On behalf of C.L.A.R.O., Bob Houliston presented a 10 page document to the Mayor and members of the government. It covered a wide range of subjects and contained 18 specific proposals.
By way of introduction, Bob Houliston said C.L.A.R.O. welcomed this opportunity for residents of Orihuela Costa to make proposals for next year's budget. Orihuela Costa with over 30,000 registered residents, equal to Orihuela city, and some 50,000 rate paying property owners accounted for 60% of the revenues of the municipality but received less than 10% of the value of municipal services. There was a huge deficit of services and investments. The prospects for next year's budget were expected to show a €10 million increase in the income of the municipality compared to the present budget approved in 20012, mainly due to an expanding coastal population and a revival of construction in Orihuela Costa with the corresponding increase in municipal revenue from building taxes. Moreover, according to reports, there would be some €10 million available for investments, principally revenue from the sale of land in Orihuela Costa some years ago. There had been general political consensus that 40% of the proceeds from the sale of land would be devoted to investments in Orihuela Costa. The 2017 budget would therefore be an opportunity, Bob Houliston said, to begin to redress the historical deficit of services and investment in Orihuela Costa.
The C.L.A.R.O. proposals contained in the document presented to the Mayor covered 6 main areas.
Infrastructure, street maintenance, street cleaning and rubbish removal
C.L.A.R.O. urged the government to finance the so-called "via paralela" a long standing project to complete an internal road, parallel to the N332, extending from La Regia to Los Balcones. This project was urgently needed to reduce congestion on the N332 aggravated by the opening of La Zenia Boulevard Commercial Centre. Two pedestrian footbridges were urgently needed. One over the motorway between La Regia and Lomos de Cabo Roig where pedestrians are obliged to use an increasingly busy road bridge which exposes them to serious danger. A pedestrian footbridge was also needed in Alameda del Mar where pedestrians from highly populated urbanisations risk their lives crossing the N332 to go to the beach. Finally, the notorious problem of deficient street cleaning and rubbish removal had to be tackled with greatly increased financial and material resources. An Ecopark where green rubbish could be shredded and converted to saleable pellets for fuel or fertiliser, as in Pilar de la Horadada, could profitably help solve the problem of uncollected green rubbish which is a constant eyesore in Orihuela Costa.
Parks and Gardens
Lack of maintenance and investment in Orihuela Costa's so-called parks and gardens, often no more than wastelands, resulted in an appearance of environmental neglect and abandon. Only half of the so-called parks and gardens are covered by the existing maintenance contract. Since 2015 it is a legal obligation for local governments to maintain ALL public parks and gardens, irrespective of their administrative status. Sufficient budgetary finance is imperative to improve the state of Orihuela Costa's parks and gardens.
Emergency Services Centre
It is essential to complete the construction of the Emergency Services Centre started as long ago as 2007. There is no local police office open when the Playa Flamenca office of the Town Hall closes at 3 p.m. each working day, only police patrol cars. Given the size of the population, especially in summer and with the advent of millions of visitors each year to La Zenia Boulevard Commercial Centre, it is irresponsible and dangerous not to have a police station open 24 hours a day. Other important services like national police, Guardia Civil, ambulance and fire brigade would be housed in the Centre.
Health and Social Services
C.L.A.R.O. proposed opening a second Health Centre to deal with the health needs of an expanding population most of which live far away from the Cabo Roig-Campoamor Health Centre with poor communication links. A Day Care Centre with medical supervision providing activities for retired people is needed and could be easily be located in the Savia Care Home in Villamartin. From the annual budget of €2m, the Alameda de Mar Civic Centre should be endowed with facilities and resources for all residents comparable to those enjoyed in Orihuela city.
Culture and Fiestas
There are no facilities on Orihuela Costa for those who organise choirs, theatre groups, and a range of social activities or a Library for leisure and study which all towns in Spain equal to the size of Orihuela Costa enjoy - Orihuela city has two auditoriums and 3 libraries. A Cultural Centre should be financed and constructed without delay. The ideal site would be in the parking area of La Zenia Boulevard, part of which is municipally owned. It would be a folly and a waste to locate such an important facility away from the centre of Orihuela Costa as is being suggested. A share of the €1.5m annual budget to support Orihuela Costa groups such as AIDOC, to organise local fiestas is also needed.
C.L.A.R.O. supported a detailed proposal put forward at the hearing by a well known local resident which would be located in the La Zenia Boulevard parking area and would cover the varied cultural needs of residents.
The main proposal put forward was for active municipal support to Save Cala Mosca, the last green area on Orihuela Costa threatened with the construction of 1.500 new houses. Thanks to C.L.A.R.O. and the intervention of the European Parliament construction has been paralysed and the project is under review by the regional government.
Many other subjects were covered by the C.L.A.R.O. document presented at the budget hearing including freezing local taxes which have increased substantially in recent years, decentralisation of services and manpower to Orihuela Costa, improving the inadequate Sewage system, Education, Sports and Transport. The Mayor gave some indications of investments which might result soon from the reassignment of unused finance (remanentes).
The ball is now in the court of the Orihuela government to present a budget for 2017 which can meet the important needs put forward by C.L.A.RO. and others at the hearing and begin to redress the historical deficit of services and investments in Orihuela Costa.
Fed up with the failure of Orihuela Town Hall to clean up the main road from La Zenia Roundabout, local business owners and residents, with C.L.A.R.O. members in support, carried out their own clean up on 12 May, They removed weeds from the street which had grown to impressive heights and litter from the area which is in a sense the main entry into Orihuela Costa, leading to the La Zenia Boulevard and Villamartin. It has been in a shameful state of neglect for years. This would be unimaginable in the centre of Orihuela city where the taxes from the coast are spent to keep the historic centre of Orihuela and the surrounding green parks and gardens scrupulously clean.
We can thank the local La Zenia Association for their initiative and hope it prompts Orihuela Town Hall to do the job we pay them for and keep Orihuela Costa clean and tidy.
To the great relief of Oriheula Costa residents, in particular those living in Las Ramblas, the front line in receiving toxic gases from the illegal burning waste tip on the Pilar-Orihuela Costa border, action has been take to seal of the emission of burning waste fumes which have constituted a serious health and environmental danger for many years.
The action to cover the escape of gases with tons of earth and sand has been insisted on by the new environment friendly government in Valencia. They were spurred to do something about this serious health hazard following complaints by local residents, spearheaded by the Las Ramblas Altamira Community, to the Guardia Civil’s environmental protection arm (SEPRONA) which resulted in the issue being taken up by the Environment Protection Prosecutor and being put before the Orihuela courts.
Throughout this two year period the local residents were assisted by C.L.A.R.O. who enlisted the support of the influential action group VERTIVEGA who specialise in denouncing illegal waste tips. C.L.A.R.O working with the President of the Altamira Community initiated and organised Media campaigns, including coverage on a national Spanish television current affairs programme, which ensured that the authorities were obliged to take up the issue.
Sealing the escape of toxic gases is the first step in a lengthy and costly process which will include removing the leakage of contaminated liquids penetrating the ground and endangering the water table and finally addressing the removal of the contents of the tip and restoring the area to its natural state.
C.L.A.RO. and local residents are intent on keeping up the pressure on the relevant authorities to ensure that the illegal tip is rendered safe and no longer threatens the health and environment mainly of Orihuela Costa residents. A Forum, initiated by C.L.A.R.O and the Las Ramblas Altamira Community, is planned for the 17 June in the Las Ramblas golf club from 12 – 2 p.m. at which representatives from the regional government and VERTIVEGA will attend; an invitation is also being sent to the owners of the land who are responsible for restoring the waste tip to legality and we hope they will also be able to attend.
Spanish and English language media will be invited to the Forum which will be open to all those living in Orihuela Costa who have an interest in environmental matters and particularly local residents who have for many years suffered from the obnoxious smells and toxic fumes which have emanated from the illegal waste tip.
Orihuela Costa’s political party C.L.A.R.O. was founded 10 years ago on the principle that exercising the right to vote was a legitimate, democratic and essential way to defend our interests in relation to the local government of Orihuela. We think the same principle applies in relation to the 23 June referendum on the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of the European Union.
The recent headline in an influential local newspaper “YOU COULD LOSE IT ALL” was directly addressed to the interests of British nationals living in Spain. It was the title of an article describing a UK government report on the consequences of a British decision to leave the EU. The report pointed out that the right to live and work in Spain, access to pensions, healthcare and public services, the right to start and run a business and several other rights, including the right to vote in local elections, that we take for granted and depend on are only guaranteed because of EU law. The report states that UK citizens resident abroad, among them those who have retired to Spain, would not be able to assume that these rights will be guaranteed if the UK were to leave the EU. At the very least, the report continues, any terms which the UK might seek for its own citizens in a negotiation to retain these rights would have to be offered to EU citizens wishing to come or stay in the UK.
Such a “successor” negotiation would be a very complicated and no doubt lengthy process which would have to be carried out with several countries not only Spain. Nor will these issues be of the highest importance and priority confronting the UK government in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
What would happen in the meantime to basic issues like continuing the receipt of pensions and access to healthcare? These are issues of concern. They would presumably be sorted out with time but uncertainty and suspension of existing rights could be very damaging to British citizens resident here. Since in Orihuela Costa, British residents account for some 65% of the total population, what happens to the British in the event of a withdrawal from the EU would have consequences for the rest of the population.
In this situation, C.L.A.R.O. URGES British nationals living in this area to VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM.
The procedure for applying to register to vote for those who are not still on a voters register in the UK is fortunately relatively simple, especially for those who have a valid British passport and a National Insurance number. The application can be made on-line using the official site www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. The procedure takes only a few minutes. The right to vote in the June referendum is limited to those who have left the UK less than 15 years ago. However, it is not clear how the electoral authorities define “left the UK”. Applicants are invited to give their own date of leaving the UK, without guidance as to what this means. Does it depend on the date of obtaining residence (residencia) in Spain or becoming a fiscal resident in Spain? In the light of this doubt, it would seem sensible to apply and leave it to the Electoral Authority to approve or reject your application.
The arrangements for voting by post are also being relaxed. Normally, ballot papers are only sent to overseas voters 4 working days before the date of an election. With the efficiency of the local post here this would make it almost impossible to receive and return the ballot papers before the election. However, since the ballot paper on 23 June will involve expressing a choice between “leave” or “remain” the electoral authorities say they will be sending the ballot papers to those registered to vote by post up to a month before the date of the referendum.
As we can already see, the decision facing voters in the UK is causing wide and passionate arguments. But what is and will be missing in the debate are some basic issues which affect those living and working here in Spain and hoping to continue to do so. The best way for us to defend our interests is by taking part in the vote. Remember, as in local elections, NO VOTE, NO VOICE and in the referendum, each vote will have the same weight and EVERY VOTE WILL COUNT.
The politicians and political parties in Orihuela don't get it. They cannot appreciate what is important for Orihuela Costa and what is not. Two examples illustrate this regrettable fact.
On Sunday, 21 February neighbours called the fire brigade to extinguish a burning rubbish container in Calle Salzillo, not far from the La Zenia roundabout. They were concerned that the flames could spread to nearby houses. 40 minutes later a fire engine appeared. In the meantime, the fire was extinguished, not by the local police who arrived with an empty fire extinguisher.
This is a perfect example of the need for Orihuela Costa to have a proper Emergency Services Centre with ambulances, fire engines and local and national police. In December last year, C.L.A.R.O. organised a demonstration in front of the skeleton of the Emergency Services Centre whose foundation stone was laid 10 years ago demanding that the Centre should be completed. This demonstration was called after several recent cases of ambulances arriving late, sometimes also after 40 minutes. On occasions, those for whom they had been called subsequently died. If flames from the burning container had spread to nearby houses what good would it have been for the fire engine to arrive 40 minutes later?
People living in Orihuela Costa need the security of efficient emergency services located locally and not depending on Orihuela or Torrevieja. Life and property are at stake.
Yet, in this week’s monthly plenary meeting of the Orihuela Town Council the Citizens Party (ex CLR) will present a motion on behalf of Orihuela Costa, proposing a beach for dogs!
What kind of priority is this when Orihuela Costa lacks, not only emergency services but social services, clean streets, a cultural centre and proper parks and gardens? Orihuela politicians and political parties will be insulting the intelligence of those living in Orihuela Costa, some 50,000 tax and rate paying citizens, if they think a beach for dogs is a priority deserving the attention of a full Council meeting .
Apart from not being relevant in regard to Orihuela Costa’s real priorities, the proposal of a beach for dogs is not even serious in itself. There are beaches in Spain and other countries where dogs are allowed but they are carefully selected beaches separate from those enjoying the sea, sand and sun. Orihuela Costa’s beaches are in the main large, open beaches where pets cannot be isolated. Most enjoy blue flag or other special status which specifically exclude, for reasons of hygiene, access for dogs and pets. These awards are of importance in attracting tourists and maintaining the quality reputation of Orihuela Costa.
There are smaller beaches and coves as in Cala Mosca but the priority for C.L.AR.O., in relation to Cala Mosca, is to stop the building of 1,500 new houses on this last green area on Orihuela Costa with sea views. Cala Mosca, should be saved from development and become a natural park for the enjoyment of residents and tourists. The political parties in Orihuela should be supporting this cause and not dreaming of beaches for dogs. Finally, how could we entrust the Town Council with the cleanliness of a beach for dogs when they cannot ensure the cleanliness of the streets of Orihuela Costa or Cala Mosca itself?
To draw attention to the lack of attention by the Town Council to the cleanliness of Cala Mosca, which is a popular area for walkers and joggers and the home of a protected species of plant, a number of C.L.A.R.O. volunteers recently spent several hours collecting litter and rubbish from the area. Several days later, the neatly arranged piles of rubbish had still not been removed by the Orihuela Costa rubbish collection service. Surprise?!
The politicians and political parties in Orihuela should devote their energies to resolving some of the real problems of Orihuela Costa and not pretending to be concerned by presenting irrelevant and inappropriate proposals. In the meantime, residents can continue to exercise their pets on the extensive range of wastelands in Orihuela Costa, the so-called green areas which do not have the status of parks or gardens because they are abandoned and not maintained as they ought to be by the Town Council.
We cannot say we were not warned. In a New Year message, the Popular Party Mayor, of Orihuela set out his priorities for 2016. Most striking was the complete absence of a mention of Orihuela Costa. Other party leaders in similar messages showed the same lack of concern for the area of the municipality with a population equal to that of the city which contributes over 60% of the income of the municipality via taxes.
In a recent meeting of the Executive Committee of Mayor Bascuñana’s Popular Party, they congratulated themselves on winning back the prized control of Orihuela Town Hall in May last year and their performance in the December 2015 General Election. They openly put it down to their success in recapturing votes in three small villages surrounding Orihuela city, Correntias, Molins and La Aparecida. These three villages have a combined population well short of just one of the major urbanizations in Orihuela Costa. The difference is that they vote and their votes count in getting favours done for them whereas only small numbers of non-Spanish residents and taxpayers in Orihuela Costa register to vote and vote in local elections.
An illustration of how the Orihuela Town Hall favours selected areas of the municipality and not Orihuela Costa can be seen in the decision this month to allocate €330,000 to improvements in a main city square, Santa Lucia, and certain surrounding villages. In Santa Lucia square the cobble stones will be replaced by tarmac. According to the Spanish press, the cobble stones were placed only 7 years ago for €600,000. What waste and extravagance! Orihuela Costa needs improvements to the streets and pavements of innumerable urbanizations!!
In another decision in January, this time by Torrevieja Town Hall, together with funds from the provincial government in Alicante, they allocated €826,145 to improvements their seaside walkway (Paseo Maritimo), so important to residents and tourists. In contrast, the Cala Capitan section of Orihuela Costa’s equally important seaside walkway remains closed for the third year due to failure to repair the damage and danger to pedestrians from cliff falls. (See photo above)
In an interview in January, one of the three recently appointed political assistants (pedanías) to Orihuela Costa’s Coordinating Councillor presented an ambitious list of all the things needed in Orihuela Costa. He is whistling in the wind. In the present political context, there is no chance of correcting the problems of deficiencies in the areas of health, sports and education which he cited, or, as he continued, meeting the need for a second health centre, a nautical sports centre, increased local police, an emergency Services Centre, and parks and gardens which would be the envy of La Manga de Mar Menor and Benidorm, plus a mega natural park in Cala Mosca. All of these are admirable ambitions for which C.L.A.R.O. has been fighting for years. But the sad fact is that his political masters in Orihuela and the other Orihuela political parties simply do not listen and pay heed to what C.L.A.R.O. or the Coordinating Councillor for the Coast and her team of political assistants proclaim as the needs of Orihuela Costa. No votes, no voice!!
The political groups in Orihuela are considering a new Regulation on Citizens Participation in the governance of Orihuela. It sounds like a good idea and indeed there are elements being studied which would have advantages for the residents of Orihuela.
But as far as Orihuela Costa is concerned, it is of secondary importance and because it could involve the division of Orihuela Costa into different districts, it could have implications which would be definitely negative. It is time to say NO to the weakening of Orihuela Costa by dividing it into districts.
The positive elements in these proposals for citizens' participation are in relation to the rights of citizens and proposals for defending their rights, including the appointment of an Ombudsman and facilities for making complaints and suggestions.
However, the proposals being studied for direct participation involving excessively bureaucratic and costly procedures are not what Orihuela Costa needs and the proposals for dividing the municipality into Districts would be clearly against the interests of Orihuela Costa residents.
The needs of Orihuela Costa are radically improved public services like street cleaning, maintenance of the infrastructure of roads, pavements and public places and in particular greatly improved investment in the so-called parks and gardens which are disgracefully inadequate. We need properly organised and locally based emergency services: police, fire and ambulances. Orihuela Costa needs investment in social welfare like a day care for elderly citizens, special care facilities, a centre for young people and a Cultural Centre with library, theatre and rooms for the many groups on the coast who organise choirs, drama groups and leisure activities. The present under-sized Civic Centre does not provide anything like adequate facilities.
Orihuela city enjoys all that we lack. It has proper public services, quality maintenance carried out by municipal workers, day care and special needs facilities and a variety of theatres and venues for public events. They have the essentials of what is good governance and therefore the basis for which citizens' participation could be advantageous.
But in the case of Orihuela Costa, when there is such a comprehensive lack of services and facilities, what is the point of proposing elaborate and costly procedures for involving residents in the management of what does not exist?
The overriding priority for Orihuela Costa is major improvements in the basic services and facilities we should have, considering that the coast is as important in population terms as the city, growing constantly and providing the bulk of the income raised by the municipality in the form of taxes. There is a danger that the political groups in Orihuela would use the existence of citizen participation procedures to divert attention from the neglect and abandonment of the coast.
It is, however, the division of the municipality into Districts which constitutes the real danger in these proposals. By design, in the current municipal Master Plan which is dated 1990, Orihuela Costa is considered to be a collection of unconnected urbanisations. Denial of the existence of Orihuela Costa as a single integrated urban entity enables the political groups in Orihuela to more easily deny us the facilities we need and should have. Divide and rule!
This denial has other serious consequences. In its search for economies, the Post Office has stopped home deliveries of post enjoyed for decades in five major urbanisations (Campoamor, Cabo Roig, La Regia and La Zenia I and II ). The reason given is that we are not a single integrated urban entity with the required population to maintain a full postal service. C.L.A.R.O. was successful in persuading the previous Socialist and Green government to mount a legal challenge to the decision of the Post Office and to promise to change the status of Orihuela Costa in the new Master Plan which is being finalised. Rather than abstract citizens participation procedures, we need the concrete assurance of the new minority Popular Party government (and confirmation of the decisions of the political groups in the previous government) that they will defend the restoration of our right to a full postal service in the courts and that they will change the status of Orihuela Costa in the new Master Plan, for which they are now responsible, so that Orihuela Costa becomes a single integrated urban entity. Division of Orihuela Costa into districts would contradict the status we need.
In the opinion of C.L.A.R.O, Orihuela Costa needs, as a priority, radically improved basic services, including emergency services and full social and cultural facilities before embarking on costly, abstract and bureaucratic citizens participation procedures. And above all, we need the protection of the status of Orihuela Costa as a single integrated urban entity and not the division of the coast into weak, fragmented, competing districts.
Over 120 people turned out on Saturday, 12 December to protest the non-completion of the Emergency Services Centre in Orihuela Costa. The rally took place in front of the skeleton of the building where the foundation stone was laid in 2010 and the partly completed building has stood for years as a symbol of the neglect and abandonment of Orihuela Costa.
C.L.A.R.O. took the initiative to organise this protest inviting other political parties and representatives of associations and social groups. Many attended, including the Councillor for Coordination of Orihuela Costa. Several spoke at the rally. The intention was to hold a broadly based protest to express anger at the delay in securing essential emergency services in Orihuela Costa, an area with a resident population greater than Orihuela city, which increases from some 35,000 to over 200,000 in the summer months and to which must be added the presence daily of thousands of visitors to the La Zenia Boulevard Commercial Centre.
We all need the sure and reliable essential services of police, fire and ambulance which, in a heavily populated area, can only be organised adequately if locally based. The protesters were told of several regrettable recent instances where ambulances have either not arrived at all or after delays of 40 minutes. The consequences of these delays have been traumatic for those involved and even fatal. Ambulances can come from as far away as Orihuela – 45 minutes by road. In principle, there should be an ambulance stationed in Cabo Roig but it is very often not there and the night service was withdrawn years ago. The fire brigade serving Orihuela Costa is based in Torrevieja and it too is subject to delays since the fire crews are not familiar with the sprawling geography of ever expanding Orihuela Costaand cannot find their destination. Disgracefully, there is no 24 hours local police station in Orhuela Costa and after 3 p.m. when the Playa Flamenca office of the Town Hall closes its doors, the police service is provided by a patrol car with a mobile telephone number. Moreover, as C.L.AR.O. President Paul Piccio underlined, if the ratio of local police to population was respected in Orihuela Costa the number of local police should be doubled in number. The local police do a good job in Orihuela Costa but they are undermanned.
The large turnout vindicated C.L.A.R.O’s decision to organise this protest. The facts about Orihuela Costa’s deficient essential emergency services, and in particular the spate of recent examples of ambulances arriving late or not at all, are causing increasing concern. It is shameful that 5 years after laying the foundation stone of a modern integrated emergency services centre which would include a 24 hour local police station, a national police presence, an ambulance service, a fire service, the Red Cross and Neighbourhood Watch, work on completion of the building has been paralysed. Political differences between Orihuela and the regional government in Valencia, which has provided the budget for the Centre and is in charge of the project, are largely to blame. But the fact that these political differences should have resulted in such a huge delay in providing essential services shows how little Orihuela Costa counts in the minds of the relevant authorities. Until Orihuela Costa raises its political voice, this neglect will continue.
To conclude the rally, the largest seen for many years in Orihuela Costa, C.L.A.R.O’s President Paul Piccio, voiced the outrage felt at this shameful neglect and demanded that the Mayor of Orihuela make urgent representations to Valencia to ensure that the project is put out to tender again AND COMPLETED URGENTLY.