For 25 years now, the authorities in Nerja have been wanting to expand the town's facilities with a golf course, to attract more tourists. The debates on this subject began in the late 1990s, although the first attempt at building one was not until 2003 when land at Barranco de la Coladilla and Pago de Tragalamocha was sold, for which the council received 15 million euros. However, the Land Regulation Plan for La Axarquía (known as POTAX) put paid to that initiative in 2006. The project had included an 18-hole golf course, 800 luxury homes and a large five-star hotel on a site measuring over one million square metres.
Despite this setback the desire for a golf course in Nerja has never gone away, especially as this municipality, which is the most easterly on the Malaga coast, is the flagship for tourism in La Axarquía region and extremely popular. Its attractions include its cliffs, the Maro-Cerro Gordo nature reserve, the town centre, which is still typical of an Andalusian village, the range of hotels and self-catering properties and beautiful countryside, just a stone's throw from the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Reserve. In all, Nerja has many charms.
In 2015, a company called Sociedad Azucarera Larios S. A. (SALSA) made a similar proposal to the council, but when the tripartite of PSOE, IU and EVA-Podemos governed from 2015 to 2019 it progressed no further.
On 23 March, with the Partido Popular back in control at the town hall, a notice was published in the Official Bulletin for the Province about an agreement with a company called Sociedad Azucarera Larios S. L. (SALSL) for the construction of an 18-hole golf course with 680 luxury homes and a luxury hotel in a converted sugar factory. It will be on 250 hectares of land between the Barranco de Burriana and the Torre de Maro. The company calculates the total investment will be 311 million euros.
The agreement, which has been put on public display so that people can make suggestions for improvements or give reasons why it should not go ahead, has reopened the debate about what type of future the people of Nerja want: should the land in question be preserved and its present uses maintained, or should the council go ahead and develop it with tourism in mind?
For this 'Maro Golf' project, modifications will be needed under the Urban Plan. If it goes ahead, the town hall would also receive 1,332,000 euros. However, if the necessary modifications are not carried out, the council will have to financially compensate the company. The local authority has not said how much this would cost, but the 'Otra Maro y Nerja es Posible' platform is talking about 9.7 million euros.
The council has not confirmed how many people have responded to the plans on display, but Town Planning councillor Nieves Atencia has said that "quite a few individuals" have expressed support for the project.
"Right now all we can say is that the project might or might not go ahead, given that if it does then the Junta de Andalucía will also have to be involved," says the mayor, José Alberto Armijo. He makes it clear that he is committed to the golf project, as long as it complies with all the necessary legal, technical, town planning and environmental requirements.
"Now that the project at La Coladilla is dead, the only way that Nerja can have a golf course will be on this land," he says, although he stresses that for the council there is no rush. "We are where we were five years ago. We have just updated the agreement of 2015."
The mayor and his party are in favour, but others are not and have presented reasons why it should not go ahead. These include Otra Maro y Nerja es Posible, the Gabinete de Estudios de la Naturaleza de la Axarquía, the Asociación en Defensa de las Chimeneas y el Patrimonio Industrial de Málaga, the Fundación del Patrimonio Industrial de Andalucía, the Fundación Rizoma, the Agrícola de Maro cooperative, Adelante Nerja and PSOE. They all point out that the area is of historical and environmental importance, with part of it being affected by the BIC of Maro, and that most of the land is not zoned for building because it has special agricultural protection. They argue that it is important that the site's beauty and cultural, historical and agricultural values are not destroyed.
The PSOE mantains that the agreement breaks the law because "its aim is not in the public interest as described in the Urban Plan".
Otra Maro y Nerja es Posible says SALSL's valuation of the land "is much higher than the real value", claiming that the value quoted by the company is nearly five million euros higher than the real one.
The responses obtained will now be studied and there may be modifications to the project before it is officially presented to the council for approval.
The principal political parties at a regional level have also spoken out about this golf course project. José Ramón Carmona, the general coordinator of the PP in Malaga and spokesman for the Andalusian Parliament's agriculture, farming and sustainable development committee, says "the priority now is to see the technical and environmental criteria. No decision can be made without knowing the technical details. If the project is viable, the experts will tell us".
Rodrigo Sánchez Haro, of the PSOE, says "we believe we need a sustainable type of tourism which preserves nature and respects climate change."
Vanessa García, a regional MP for the Adelante Andalucía party, says "We are very worried about the negative consequences of this macroproject on the area," while Ciudadanos and VOX declined to make any comment while the plans are at such an early stage.
Whatever happens, the eternal debate, which now transcends provincial and Andalusian boundaries, is still alive and facing a new chapter.