Saturday, July 06, 2013

Liberalising Wetlands: The Balearics new water plan

The Balearics Water Council (Consejo Balear de Agua) is a body within the regional government and is one that oversees the planning of water resources in the Balearics. This council consists of the environment minister and various others, such as representatives of agriculture, health, the ports and users of water in coastal and urban areas. It also includes a representative of ecology groups and defenders of the environment. One representative among 42 in total.

Not all of these 42 were at a meeting of the council the other day. 34 were, and of these 34, one of them voted against the ratification of the new regulations under what is known as the Plan Hidrológico de las Islas, which basically means the plan for water resources. I wonder who the one who voted against was.

This water resources plan, on the face of it, is pretty dry and dull stuff, but when you go behind it, it becomes anything other than dry and dull. Primarily, the plan has to do with ensuring water supplies and their quality, but water resources in Mallorca are not confined to what is swimming around off its coastline, to what lurks underneath the earth or to obviously protected areas of wetlands, such as Albufera. There are other areas of the island, the classification of which makes the water resources plan less than dry and dull.

The environmental GOB has attacked the ratification of the new plan. It has done so on various grounds. It disagrees with what will be authorisation for new wells in coastal areas where there is an issue with salinization, with access to water "without limits and controls", and with the modification of limits in areas of partly urban wetland.

The revised plan is, therefore, destined to be more permissive. As such therefore, it is in line with other policy moves adopted by the Partido Popular regional government which have favoured a more market approach than previous illiberal restriction. There is good and bad that can come from this greater freedom, and there will be those who believe that modifications to what can be done on partly urban wetland will only be bad. I am not one of them.

A major argument can be expected to return to Puerto Pollensa as a result of the new plan. It will be about the Ullal area of the resort. The modifications under the plan open the way for the development that has been envisaged for Ullal for some while, this development being a five-star hotel complex.

Puerto Pollensa badly needs more hotel stock. The relatively low amount of hotel places in the resort has been recognised as a potential weakness for years. It has also been a strength in that a tourist accommodation base which favours non-hotel stock has helped to maintain the traditional, less-developed feel of the resort.

But there is one very major way in which the regional government, and its PP masters in national government, is not liberal, and that is in its attitude towards and treatment of private accommodation for tourist rental. What has been a strength in the resort could very quickly become a weakness, and a crippling weakness at that, if the regional government was stupid enough to really get tough on private accommodation.

The government, which hasn't been doing Puerto Pollensa any favours in one way, is doing so in another; the development of Ullal should be welcomed. Doubtless there will be arguments, and one wouldn't rule out legal challenges, but if the plan now does clarify the status of Ullal, then perhaps the questionable notion that Ullal is wetland can be dispensed with. It is said that it is an historical, ancient wetland, which it may well, but in its present-day incarnation, it is very un-wet.

While the revised plan will raise hackles in Puerto Pollensa, it is unlikely to in Puerto Alcúdia. It is striking just how different attitudes are between the two resorts in respect of partly urban wetland. Political parties at Alcúdia town hall have pretty much been unanimous in rejecting the idea that developments in the resort between the horse and Magic roundabouts and along the Avenida Tucan contravene the plan as it was before the latest revision. They are also unlikely to disagree vehemently with any further developments which may arise because of the new plan, and one of these may be the revival of what has long been talked about, which is a further hotel complex, one that would now, like Puerto Pollensa, be of a five-star category. 

Of course, none of this development might happen, but the new plan makes it possible. It may not be a plan that meets with universal support, there may indeed be rightful concerns about over-exploitation of water resources, but in one respect, it is a step in the right direction.

Any comments to please.

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