Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Victory Of Ses Casetes Des Capellans

On a day in late October 2009 I wandered along the beach in Playa de Muro to the enclave of Ses Casetes des Capellans. It was a fine, sunny autumn day, late in the season. It was a Saturday, and Ses Casetes was full of people; the people who own the cottages in this strange part of Muro, the people who were preparing for a demonstration that would take them out of Ses Casetes and on to the main road into Can Picafort, as Ses Casetes lies right by the border between the municipalities of Muro and Santa Margalida.

Before they ventured out of their curious urbanisation, they staged a protest, posing for press and television. It was a protest against what they were in the process of losing. Their cottages. Their Ses Casetes, the summertime village by the sea for the folk of Muro who, for years, had owned these cottages which had been ceded to the town decades before by the church. The little houses of the chaplains.

There are protests and there are protests. Only some have total justification. This was one of those. The cottages, the whole area of Ses Casetes, were under threat of eventual demolition and the destructiveness of the bulldozer, and all because the Costas Authority had deemed that Ses Casetes was on public land that was part of the maritime domain.

Strictly speaking, the Costas may have been right to have classified the area in the way that it had, but the cottages - ses casetes - had been there for all those decades. It had been the church which had developed the site as a place for clergy to enjoy the seaside. There had been no demarcation of land, no consideration of what might have been land determined by the action of the sea; the development was long before such notions existed or were dreamt up and placed on statute books.

I got interested in and involved in the case of and campaign for Ses Casetes because I knew people who owned properties there. These are not grand properties by any means. They are simple, old cottages. Yes, there are some other properties of rather grander style, one or two which have invaded the forest track into what is part of the wider Albufera nature reserve. Their legality is and was an entirely separate issue. The legality of the original cottages was one solely to do with how the land had been re-classified, and the legal interpretation was unjust; totally unjust. 

What added to the sense of injustice was the fact that right next to Ses Casetes was the first of the hotels that sit along the seafront in Can Picafort, a resort whose frontline comprises hotel after hotel and which had all been built on land which could have been nothing other than of same the category that had caught Ses Casetes in the Costas' trap.

The threat to the cottages came about because of what had started the year before. Twenty years after the old Coasts Law had been enacted, the Costas Authority's delegation in the Balearics had finally got round to taking an interest in developments along the bay of Alcúdia. This interest turned to alarm. All manner of property was potentially liable to be classified as being on land that was "influenced by the sea". There was an arcane qualification for this influence, one which drew a distinction between naturally and artificially created and dried-out salt marsh. Property which was on natural salt land and which had been built before the 1988 act was liable to be deemed illegal but would be given a stay of execution before it might be demolished. In the meantime, owners would not have been able to sell it. Ses Casetes fell into this category.

Because the cottages were owned by ordinary folk, there was a sense in which they were being discriminated against. They could point to the hotels in Can Picafort and ask, "well, what about those?" Any thoughts that the Costas might have had about the Can Picafort hotels were not made public, but the authority had ruled that hotels in Playa de Muro contravened demarcation legislation. They, though, weren't about to be threatened with eventual demolition, only with loss of some of their facilities closer to the shoreline which breached the 100-metre rule.

With the recent reform of the Coasts Law came the hope that Ses Casetes might be spared its fate and eventual day of demolition destiny. Though there hasn't been a definitive statement, it seems that the Costas will change the classification once again, making Ses Casetes urban land.

The people of Ses Casetes will have won a victory, therefore, but it will be a victory for a fight that should never have taken place. As Martí Fornés, the mayor of Muro, points out, Ses Casetes had been an established urban development for decades. Of course it had been, and now common sense appears to have prevailed in accepting that it had been all along. I'm delighted for the people of Ses Casetes.

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