Costa investment projects stuck in the pipeline
If we were talking about somebody who was sick, we could say that the situation regarding major investment in Malaga is still showing signs of life but has not yet recovered from the worst of the economic crisis, a period during which it was more dead than alive. Although the private sector is starting to show signs of recovery after the recession of recent years, some major projects in Malaga city and elsewhere in the province, which have been on hold for years, are still blocked within the public administration system, even though they could make a great difference to individuals and companies who are struggling to keep their businesses going.
The airport town in Alhaurín de la Torre, the inland port in Antequera, the railway line down to Marbella, investment in health services, works to reduce flooding around the Guadalhorce, the Arraijanal and Campamento Benítez parks in Malaga, the integration of the Guadalmedina riverbed and the works to create more facilities on the Heredia and San Andrés quays in the port: these are just some examples of projects which have been paralysed for years and which show no sign of starting any time soon.
There are many reasons why so many major investment projects are currently blocked, even though they could boost considerably the areas where they are due to be carried out. One is the political instability at some town halls after last year’s council elections, with coalitions of political parties who continue to create tensions and fight for power. There is also uncertainty on a national level, after five months of a caretaker government and repeat elections scheduled to take place on 26th June. On top of this, there are the lengthy bureaucratic processes associated with all large projects, which are subject to prior examination and numerous reports from different bodies, and there are budgetary restrictions which tie the hands not only of councils but also the Junta de Andalucía and state administrations, many of whom also clash on occasion because different political parties are involved.
On the western Costa del Sol, one of these projects is the expansion of La Bajadilla marina in Marbella. The contract was awarded to a company owned by Sheikh Al-Thani in 2010, but nothing has been done so far and the Junta de Andalucía has threatened to cancel the concession if the plans are not presented by the end of July.
Marbella council is very keen for this project to go ahead one way or another, because the expansion would mean that cruise ships could visit the town, something which would be of huge importance to the Costa del Sol as a whole. As a result, it has already been talking to other investors who have expressed an interest in taking over the project if Sheikh Al-Thani fails to go ahead. In late March, four groups were reported to be interested, one of them from Spain.
Marbella council considers that there are two possible ways for the concession to be changed. The first would be for the new investor to take over the existing debt with the architect’s studio: Al-Thani’s company’s shares are currently embargoed and under court administration because of this debt.
The second way forward (and the option preferred by the council) is simply a sale of the company shares. This process, however, would mean negotiating with the Sheikh, who may not be keen to cooperate. However, it may not all be as straightforward as the local authority hopes. On Thursday, Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, the managing director of the Andalusian Ports Authority (APPA), told journalists that caution was needed because legal wrangling could mean that everything would have to be put on hold.
The extension to the Costa del Hospital is another project which is currently at a standstill, due to disagreements between the concession-holder, the Junta and Marbella council, and in Estepona nothing more can be done with regard to the planned new boulevard with a hotel, shopping centre and a new town hall because the regional government still has to produce some reports before any work can go ahead.
On the eastern side of Malaga, a project for a marina between Nerja and Torrox and a golf course in the latter municipality have also had to be put to one side because of a lack of political initiative and the economic crisis. Nor has there been any progress on the inland port project at La Vega de Antequera, in which private investors are participating, since it was announced six years ago. At the time, the regional government said the works for this major logistics facility, which would create 1,900 jobs, would begin this year, but the project is still waiting for different bureaucratic processes to be completed.
In Malaga city, one project which seems to have been pending forever is the plan to integrate the Guadalmedina riverbed into the city centre. A competition was held four years ago to collect ideas as to how this should be done, but since then disagreements between the Junta de Andalucía and Malaga council have kept the project at a standstill. The local authority has started the process to draw up a special plan for the riverbed which complies with the present urban plan for the city, in an attempt to force the Junta de Andalucía to come to a decision about the matter. However, the Junta’s environmental department considers it will be “impossible” for the riverbed to be used, so the council knows that it will probably have to restrict the project to the construction of more bridges to connect the two halves of the city centre which are divided by the river.
Other important projects in Malaga are also looking uncertain. For instance, the one for the block of buildings which houses the Astoria and Victoria cinemas, near the Plaza de la Merced, which was bought by the council for 21 million euros five years ago. The next step should have been a competition for project ideas, but the local authority has not started this.
A similar uncertain future faces the project to transform the Hoyo de Esparteros area, including a new hotel designed by famous architect Rafael Moneo. These plans were first suggested 14 years ago, but at the moment they cannot be taken any further due to the developer’s financial circumstances.
Some longstanding projects have now become very urgent, as they affect the lives of those in Malaga. The regional government has still not solved the pressures on health care in Malaga or its metropolitan area. Following the failed macro-hospital project, there is still a shortage of hospital beds, although it has recently been suggested that land at the back of the Civil Hospital could be used to build another wing of the Carlos Haya. Still, at least in this sector there is some positive news as, all being well, the Guadalhorce hospital is due to open this summer.
In terms of infrastructure, another project which has been on hold for many years is the west metropolitan distribution highway which was supposed to link the Guadalhorce industrial estate, Alhaurín de la Torre and the airport. It was first proposed in the late 1990s, and the contract was awarded by the Ministry of Public Works in 2009 for 37 million euros. However, the works have not been carried out because of claims that they would interfere with other infrastructures planned by the same ministry in the same area, such as the northern access to the airfield, which has also never been started. The lack of agreement between the central government and the regional authorities is still blocking both projects.
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