Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Almogía, Álora, Benalmádena, Cártama, Casabermeja, Coín, Pizarra, Rincón de la Victoria, Torremolinos and Totalán were the twelve municipalities chosen.
In December 2006 the Andalusian parliament approved a new territorial plan, known as the Potaum, that defined what was to become known as Malaga’s ‘Área Metropolitana’.
This group was formed by Malaga plus twelve other municipalities located closest to the city, many of which have become commuter towns in recent years: Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Almogía, Álora, Benalmádena, Cártama, Casabermeja, Coín, Pizarra, Rincón de la Victoria, Torremolinos and Totalán. The combined registered population of the area - according to the latest statistics from the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) - is 881,845, which amounts to 53.7 per cent of the provincial total. The population has grown in the area by 14 per cent in the last ten years.
When the regional authority defined the metropolitan area it established a series of objectives, covering fields such as planning, transport, housing, public services, energy infrastructure, waste treatment, green zones and areas of financial opportunity, which were to be carried out by the municipalities in a coordinated fashion.
However in reality not a great deal has been achieved and the mayors themselves admit that the idea has not really taken off, especially as far as working together is concerned.
The financial crisis can be blamed in part, but not totally. A certain degree of reluctance on the part of the municipalities has also slowed down any progress as has a lack of collaboration from other administrations such as the Junta de Andalucía as well as the fact that some of the services involved (water, firefighting) are already coordinated as part of other supramunicipal organisations such as a ‘mancomunidad’ or a consortium.
To give an example, in Alhaurín el Grande, the construction of what was to be known as the ‘ciudad aeroportuaria’ (airport city) has been halted following a report from the regionalEnvironment Department that 40 per cent of the land involved is on a flood plain. This scheme envisaged the development of an area covering 3.8 million square metres, a forecast investment of 300 million euros (85 per cent private) and the creation of 25,000 jobs over 15 years.
In Álora, the Canca area of tourist opportunity is making no progress; in Casabermeja, an area of one million square metres is still waiting for investment to turn it into a business park specialising in logistics and transport; similarly the R&D industrial park project planned for Pizarra is still on hold.
What does seem to be making some progress is the conversion of the Campamento Benítez area into a metropolitan park.
The only organisation that links these 13 municipalities at the moment is the Metropolitan Forum of Mayors that was set up in 2005. This works by providing a framework for dialogue, reflection and collaboration and so far six meetings have been held. Working documents for various projects have been submitted but they have never left the drawing board.
The situation in Malaga is very different to that of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), for example, where there is a public authority set up to manage planning, transport and housing in the area.
The mayors and the president of the provincial authority (Diputación), Elías Bendodo, all agree however that the philosophy of collaboration within the metropolitan area is positive and that initiatives such as combining services could save money in the long run.
They all quote the example of one project that has worked, the Consorcio de Transportes de Málaga. Formed in 2003 by the Junta de Andalucía (45%), the Diputación (5%) and the 11 municipalities that participate, the consortium allows passengers to purchase a single ticket for travel between these towns. The only two members of the metropolitan area that do not form part of the transport consortium are Coín and Torremolinos.
Elías Bendodo is in favour of “reinforcing” the metropolitan area, stressing that the municipalities in question should continue to work towards creating “new opportunities”.
“Progress has already been made in communications through the new infrastructure and transport systems in force, but further advancement is necessary. All the municipalities have to do is adapt and respond to a growing reality- towns are expanding, geographical mobility is growing as is the population of commuters. As authorities we must respond adequately to this situation and work together when it comes to issues that affect the quality of life of local citizens and improved services. In this sense experience shows that uniting services could mean a significant saving. But we must also study other lines of collaboration,” he said.
The mayor of Álora, José Sánchez, is more critical: “The metropolitan area is of no benefit because nothing has been done. We can only hope that it will be positive in the future.”
The mayors of Cártama, Coín and Alhaurín el Grande agree that nothing of any benefit has been done. Pedro Fernández Montes went so far as to say that the plans were “out of date”, adding that in any case the municipalities already complement one another and can do more together in the knowledge that none is the rival of the other and out of mutual respect.
The Junta stresses progress in social and territorial cohesion
The Junta de Andalucía’s representative in Malaga, José Luis Ruiz Espejo, stressed that the Potaum plan for the metropolitan area has allowed them to organise development, making it more sustainable with more social and territorial cohesion. He pointed out that the objective of conserving the coastline had been achieved and the “persistent financial crisis” had taken its toll on the rest of the projects. He did, however, express his confidence that private investment would soon recover. He also stressed that the construction of the city’s metro and a park in Arraijanal were of benefit to the metropolitan area.