The works have been paralysed for so long that the huge half-built 30,000-square-metre building now seems part of the landscape. Nor does it seem out of place in the area, the upper part of Los Monteros to the north of the A-7, five kilometres from the entrance to Marbella town centre. It is not the only half-built and abandoned building. Barely 500 metres away is another emblematic project, the skeleton of what was going to be a hotel, built without regard to the law and another mute witness to the more recent history of Marbella.
The unfinished extension works to the Costa del Sol Hospital are nothing to do with the town planning savagery of the harsh years of Jesús Gil and Juan Antonio Roca; this is a much more recent story of disagreement between institutions, formulas of public and private collaboration being applied badly and without transparency, and also a bit of bad luck.
Ten years ago, in the autumn of 2010, the Marbella area was about to fulfil its aim of no longer having a 'district' hospital, but one which would be a benchmark for health care for half a million residents, not counting the floating population. The incorporation of new services and the 34,000-square-metre extension at a cost of 48.5 million euros was going to make the Costa del Sol Hospital, which opened in 1991, a health facility par excellence in Malaga province.
That autumn, however, there was a twist to the tale. The machines stopped and although at first the Junta de Andalucía said they had just slowed down, in fact they stopped completely. Since then, the half-built construction has seen three different presidents of the Junta de Andalucía, including the political upheaval after the elections in 2018, and two different mayors of Marbella, with the arrival of socialist José Bernal in 2015 and his removal after a motion of no confidence two years later.
At the time, the stoppage was blamed on a lack of agreement between the institutions. When the problems began, the PP's Ángeles Muñoz was mayor of Marbella and PSOE's José Griñán was the president of the Junta. However, during this decade there were all types of combinations, including periods when both institutions were governed by the same party, whether conservatives or socialists. Nevertheless a solution to the stoppage, announced many times, turned out to be impossible.
The origins of the halted works are to be found in a disagreement between the town hall, the Junta de Andalucía and the firm with the contract for the expansion works, a subsidiary of Seville's Abengoa company. It took on the construction in exchange for the right to run the underground car park at the hospital, the construction of which formed part of the project, for 40 years. As the hospital is situated beside the main highway it is almost obligatory to drive there, and the viability of the project relied on everyone using the underground car park, something that was never clearly explained and about which the council, which was calling for the Junta de Andalucía to finance the expansion works from its own resources, was not in agreement. When the firm began to place bollards along the road to stop cars parking there and the council forced it to remove them, the problems began. The licence for the car park was never granted. The three parties all lodged court cases and the building works slowed right down and then came to a complete halt soon afterwards. An additional complication was the situation of the parent company, immersed in a termnal financial crisis which has continued until today.
In 2014, four years later, it was announced that agreement had been reached after ten months of negotiations. It was decided that the Junta, which manages the hospital, would reorganise the outside parking areas so they could only be used by staff, and would compensate the construction company to ensure its viability in exchange for a reduction in the length of the concession. Marbella council agreed to grant the licence for the car park, the urbanisation works and commercial areas. There was a solemn signing ceremony, lots of smiles and the promise that the works would resume very soon. But something went wrong again.
Time passed and the machinery was still at a standstill. Despite the opacity which has accompanied this project from the start, it was learned that there had been disagreement between the Junta and the firm over the amount of compensation and that had thwarted the deal. Soon afterwards, the company filed for bankruptcy.
The project started to unblock again at the end of 2018, when the Junta decided to cancel the concession and gave the green light for 12 million euros to be made available to do so. That was the amount of investment made until the works came to a halt. It was the final point on the order of the day of the last meeting of the regional government while Susana Díaz was president before the elections which ended 37 years of socialist government in Andalucía. Once in power the new president, Juanma Moreno, paid the 12 million and the concession was cancelled. As one government made the money available and another made the payment, socialists and conservatives both claimed the merit.
The concession was definitively cancelled on 20 May 2019 and this released the underground car park, which became free to use. At the same time, it was announced that the works were 35 per cent completed and that it would cost 30 million euros to finish them.
However, the works had been paralysed for so long that another problem had arisen. The original project was outdated and needed updating to meet the new health care needs of the area. Two new specialist centres (CHARES) in Benalmádena and Estepona had been planned - although the latter is still not open - and therefore the requirements on the Costa del Sol had changed.
The Costa del Sol Health Agency was tasked with drawing up an operational study to decide what alterations would have to be made to the project, before the Junta puts a new contract to tender to complete the expansion. However, then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and, once again, the plans were disrupted.
We understand that the study is practically completed now, but has still to be delivered to the Junta's Ministry of Health.