High Court invalidates Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria urban planning permits not legally administered
The Canary Islands High Court has ruled that the urban planning permits, used by the Mogán mayor and her CIUCA party, supported by PSOE, to authorise several major new developments in Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, the framework for which had been granted just as they entered office in 2015, were not legally administered. Despite the deficiencies having been pointed out and serious concerns raised by their opposition (PP and Nueva Canarias) during the April 17 2017 plenary, the governing group led by Onalia Bueno voted them forward. The permissions granted, for these multimillion euro developments, have now been ruled invalid, due to the fact that strict procedures required by law were not properly followed or completed.
The Superior Court ruling was handed down on November 3 and invalidates the Costa Mogán Plan for Modernisation, Improvement and Increased Competitiveness (Costa de Mogán PMM), which had been approved by Canary Islands Government Decree (116/2015 of May 22 2015). The shock decision against the governmental co-defendants, signed by rapporteur Judge Juan Ignacio Moreno-Luque Casariego, declares both the decree and the plan null and void. The specific legal beneficiaries of the permits were the companies Tourin Europeo, Mogán Mall and Mercadona, all of whom would have contracted other companies to carry out the work in question in and around Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria.
Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria
The Second Section of the Administrative Litigation Chamber of the Canary Islands Superior Court of Justice (TSJC), presided over by magistrate Óscar Bosch Benítez, ruled on the highly contentious appeal filed, by the community of owners of the Puerto Rico Phase 1 Shopping Centre, against the Mogán town council planning permissions, who felt they, and their interests, were harmed by the implied liberalisation of the rules surrounding commercial land in Puerto Rico. The original shopping centre has been struggling for years, and long needed upgrading, modernisation and improvement, as it was at risk of becoming an eye sore. This year they were finally able to implement a long standing plan to renovate. Since the modernisation plan was brought into effect, by the majority governing group led by CIUCA’s Onalia Bueno, two large shopping centres and a major supermarket have been built in the popular tourist town.
The judgment declares the urban plan void due to “an essential processing defect” legally invalidating the decree. A similar judgment also invalidated the 2014 Playa de Mogán modernisation plan, set up by Bueno’s predecessor and mentor, Paco Gonzalez, and annulled in 2016 adding to serious problems in the completion of planned works there.
The “invalidating defect”, referred to in the ruling, points to the fact that the scope of the Costa de Mogán PMM urban planning document specifically affects areas included in the public domain or coastal easement zones. On that basis, by law, it required a technical report from Costas General Directorate, Spain’s coastal authority. COTMAC, the Canary Islands Regional Planning and Environment Commission (Comisión de Ordenación del Territorio y Medio Ambiente de Canarias), itself approved the environmental report and approved the plan, but only on the condition that it was also approved by the Costas. That official approval was not given prior to the plan being signed off and implemented, which, in the opinion of the Chamber, makes the plan invalid.
The Mogán Town Council are not expected to appeal, unless they can show the ruling contravenes regional or EU law, in which case they would have to take it to the Supreme Court.
It remains quite unclear as to what will happen next. The specific developments were completed and are in operation. The businesses of the original Shopping Centre Puerto Rico must now compete more than at any time previously in their history, with the new-big money developments on their doorstep. While it is true the visitors and residents of Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria have a lot more to choose from, with shiny new commercial centres, and at last a choice of more affordable supermarkets, questions are being asked about who else it is that has benefited from the irregular planning of urban development permits.
“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble…”
It is not just Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria at risk, we must remember that problems like these are usually paid for out of our tax coffers. That means, paid for by the ordinary people of Mogán, while profits seem to go elsewhere. Radical urban development and large property deals have been a signature hallmark of Mayor Onalia Bueno’s CIUCA administration in Mogán, ranging from the rushed redevelopment of Tauro beach, to the sudden construction of two large shopping centres in Puerto Rico De Gran Canaria, and huge urban developments, across three different barrancos, in the small fishing port town of Arguineguín.
In the case of Tauro, the beach resort development promoted by Anfi Group and Santana Cazorla, led to resident and environmentalist outrage at the sudden importation of more than 70,000 tons of sand, purchased illegally from Moroccan suppliers in the occupied and disputed territory of Western Sahara. It also resulted in the removal and arrest of the regional head of the costas who was fired from his position, then charged and convicted of planning permission irregularities, though his conviction has this year been overturned on appeal. It was judged however that the concession granted to the Anfi group had, once again, not fulfilled all the legal criteria stipulated to allow their project to go ahead. Their new development did, however, follow the first of an unholy raft of Spanish Supreme Court judgements, against Anfi and their long running timeshare operations. This has led many to speculate about their urgency possibly having had less to do with Mogán’s “Modernisation, Improvement and Increased Competitiveness” and perhaps more to do with misdirecting attention from the potential liabilities that stemmed from that judgement. Liabilities estimated to run into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of euros, affecting the industry as a whole. A controversially constructed new sandy beach is a lot better on the optics. That project too was reversed and overturned this year, while the Tauro Beach itself remains cordoned off with barriers.
In Arguineguín local residents were treated to two years of daily construction work in a barranco where a controversial major new development rose several stories, without any proper consultation with the surrounding property owners. This led to a sense of total helplessness for several residents, who found the views from their homes suddenly interrupted. It has never been quite clear if this was a tourism or residential development. However what did become apparent was the total lack of communication offered by the town hall in the face of objections, and worryingly clear deficiencies in the installation of a biomass water heating system that poured black smoke out of the top of the new buildings, choking their neighbours who found their gardens and homes on eye level with the noxious emissions.
There are several, noisy, and ongoing, major construction sites for developments no-one seemed to know we needed in Mogán. A vast new pay-for car park, paid for, mostly, with EU money, is going up behind Arguineguín’s main Spar supermarket. The site backs on to the main health centre, and the local social services department, for several years now stopping the people of the town from accessing the car park that was already there, with no clear end in sight.
A new urban residential development suddenly arrived this year, during the state of emergency lockdown, without any clear announcements, in the area of Avenida Mencey. To residents’ and property owners’ consternation the street has had to be closed due to vast cracks appearing in the road’s surface, suggesting that whatever planning took place did not take into account the effects of huge earth moving works directly below the road, over which site-traffic and large lorries were also accessing the barranco. Several property owners have demanded to know when it will be fixed and whether they should be worried about the collapsing sides of the barranco endangering their homes. Meanwhile all the surrounding streets have had to travel alternative routes to avoid the closure of this primary access road to their homes and neighbourhood.
Curiouser, and curiouser, daylight robbery.
Let’s not forget one last highly unusual anomaly in the tenure of this Mogán Town Hall regime: the alleged break in and robbery of documents and other paperwork from Mogán’s Department of Works, Contracting, Technical and Public Services, way back on May 22, 2018 just one year prior to Mayor Bueno’s re-election, (currently also subject to investigation) and as her first term was coming towards its end. No further information has ever come to light on what, if anything, was removed during that episode, nor indeed who perpetrated such an unusual and risky crime, where drawers, desks and cupboards were rifled through, yet no computer equipment or other items of value taken. Curiouser, and curiouser.
The mayor and two of her accomplices, deputy mayor Mencey Navarro, responsible for Urban Planning, Tourism Promotion and Security, and Councillor for Social Services Tania Alonso, were all arrested, pending charges, at the beginning of September. An ongoing Guardia Civil investigation searched their offices and homes looking for evidence of alleged electoral irregularities, following multiple accusations of vote rigging, extreme nepotism, the unusual awarding of municipal contracts to employers close to the administration, and much more besides.
It is not the first time that Bueno has been arrested on similar charges. Most people would express outrage, if they felt wrongly accused, or falsely suspected. Yet, utterly unphased by her detention, while police continue to gather evidence, this mayor’s only public reaction to the media was to try to redirect attention to the migrant crisis playing out at the Arguineguín harbour. She camly held a press conference, brazenly implying that her arrest was simply a result of her having criticised the State for abandoning her town to deal with the huge recent influx of irregular migrants from Africa. As if being arrested for political criticism was not unusual in itself. “To criticise the State, comes at a cost” she declared. In the weeks that have followed “The Camp of Shame”, as she terms it, has become her latest cause célèbre.
The good, hard working people of Mogán, all of them, deserve much better than these thinly veiled slights of hand and constant prevarication. Something is truly rotten in the politics of the town, and it is clear to many others, elsewhere on Gran Canaria, who express shame at the state of institutional democracy on the island’s wild southwest, which seems to maintain the feudal 19th century dynamics of the poor depending on the powerful, who enrich themselves by controlling what rightfully belongs to everyone who lives and works for the betterment of our sunny south coast.
Sooner or later people will start to ask how many more dodgy land deals, irregular permits and large work contracts can we expect to be uncovered or overturned in the coming months and years? Isn’t it time the people who rightly call Mogán their home demanded better from their public servants and this delinquent town hall? If we don’t have a voice there, we don’t have a voice. This IS a democracy, if we want it.
There comes a time, in every politician’s career, when chickens come home to roost, and they either stop having to paint pictures, and transcend their ocean of past sins, or else they must stop avoiding the rocky shores of truth, for a final reckoning they’ve been trying to avoid.
As Bob Dylan once sang “Sailin’ ’round the world in a dirty gondola… Someday, everything’s gonna be different, When I paint my masterpiece.”