It is difficult to know exactly how many people in Malaga province live in an 'urbanización', the Spanish word used for residential developments that can range from a simple apartment complex to vast estates covering various hectares.
In recent years numerous residential developments of this type have sprung up on the outskirts of towns and villages. However, since these first began to be built, people who live in them have insisted that the local councils should take them over and provide certain services that they have previously paid for themselves.
If the town hall maintains the roads and takes responsibility for street lighting and other services, then residents will see a significant reduction in their community fees. However, each council has its own version of this ‘political involvement’, as the president of the College of Community Administrators, Fernando Pastor, describes it.
It is important to differentiate between a community of owners (in an “urbanización”), and an EUC (“Entidad Urbanística de Conservación”). In communities, the owners of the apartments and houses also jointly own private communal areas within the complex which cannot be used by non-residents, such as gardens.
With an EUC, people do not own the communal areas, they just own a property in the same area; for example, their apartment block or villa may be next to a park or garden which can be used by the general public.
Mijas, which is one of the municipalities with the highest number of ‘urbanisations’, has now begun a complicated process of adopting them, and if the method they are using is successful it could serve as a model for other local authorities.
Mijas council decided the best way of doing this would be to divide the communities into different sectors, depending on when they were built, and start by looking at the situation of the oldest ones.
The mayor, Juan Carlos Maldonado, says the council is strongly in favour of adopting the ‘urbanisations’, in order to be fair.
“It doesn’t matter where our residents live within the municipality; they should benefit from the same services and have the same rights as anyone else,” he says.
However, before anything can be done the council needs to examine the situation in each development carefully and obtain exact figures about how much it will cost to take it over, because its budget will not allow them all to be done at once. Once that process has been completed, a schedule can be drawn up.
Mijas and Marbella
Although at the moment only Camping La Cala has been properly adopted by Mijas, other projects are being carried out anyway, such as the plan to asphalt the roads in residential developments. This year the sum of 330,000 euros has been set aside to improve the infrastructure of these communities.
In Marbella the mayor Ángeles Muñoz drew up a plan some time ago to take over 300 “urbanisations” which, according to the now-annulled Urban Plan of 2010, are on “consolidated urban land”, but there has been little progress. In fact, these areas have only just been included in the local asphalting plan.
The initiative was rejected by planning experts who realised, said the councillor for Public Works, Javier García, that communities could not be included if they had infrastructure works pending, because those have to be carried out by the owners.
The aim of the new council in Marbella is to “start working with the Town Planning department and legal advisors so that the initiative can be resumed, but we need to take over the urbanisations gradually,” he said.
The vast majority of these developments in Marbella were built in the Gil era of uncontrolled development, but some were constructed much earlier and still lack basic facilities. Most are still not connected to mains sewerage and depend on septic tanks; this is something they have in common with most complexes of this type in the province.
The plan drawn up by the Partido Popular council three years ago was for these 300 developments, which were still being run by the owners, to be adopted in stages. For example, in 2015 the council would take over the street cleaning, road surfacing and pavements. In 2016 it would take over the garden areas and parks. The last tripartite council, that lost power to the PP last month, said this would be financially unviable and it wanted each “urbanisation” to be analysed one-by-one.
This way of looking at them individually has also been adopted by Estepona council, which takes areas over once all the necessary works have been completed. In six years, the council has taken over 15 in total.
So far, however, sectors of Estepona have been left incomplete because the developers who built the complexes failed to fulfill their contractual obligations in terms of providing certain services. The local council has already taken action in Valle Romano, Las Mesas, Nueva Atalaya and several parts of the town centre (at present they are concentrating on the Huerta Nueva area), although town hall sources cannot confirm exactly how much money is being spent on this process, which is a type of “partial adoption”.
On the eastern Costa del Sol the problem is the same. Vélez-Málaga council is working on its forthcoming budget and hopes to set up collaborative agreements for maintenance of “urbanisations”, specifically those in areas between Benajarafe and Chilches, which are the areas furthest from Vélez town centre.
During the last legislative term, when the Partido Popular ran Vélez town hall, the council approved the motion to provide some services in “urbanisations” in Vélez and Torre del Mar, but not those in the rest of the municipality, many of which have been established for a long time and have serious infrastructure problems to take into account.
The measure affects a total of 29 areas in Vélez-Málaga and Torre del Mar. Although the idea at the time was that the council would take over the maintenance of these developments, especially those in outlying districts such as Chilches, Mezquitilla, Lagos and Benajarafe, so far nothing has been done.
In fact, some people are complaining that the council has made no progress at all in this area, nor has it resolved existing problems. They say they pay their taxes and the town hall is not providing the services to which they are entitled. They also claim that the council is demanding millions of euros which the owners cannot pay.
In Rincón de la Victoria the only large residential complex which has been adopted by the council (in the summer of 2014) is Añoreta, which was built over 30 years ago. Parque Victoria, to the north of La Cala del Moral, is awaiting a decision from the courts about a case lodged by the town hall in 2013 because it considered that the developers had not complied with the terms of the contract, signed in 2010, for the council to take it over.
In Nerja about 20 residential complexes are waiting to be adopted by the council. About ten years ago an agreement was signed with the association of communities, under which the owners had to carry out certain works, and once these were completed the town hall would take over.
This year that agreement has come to fruition in the Tropicana Urbanización, which is home to about 500 people, and several similar projects in other residential areas of the municipality are under way.
In Torrox this is also a major problem in several areas, especially isolated rural communities which have no mains drainage or street lighting, but it is hoped that the situation can be resolved by using funds from the provincial government for improvements to be carried out.