Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nationalising The Beaches

It was a few years ago now. Residents in Playa de Muro were denouncing the over-occupation of part of the beach by sunlounger and parasol sets. There were more than there should have been, and the residents invoked the rights of the citizens in respect of the use of the free public domain that is all Spanish beaches.

The residents' action came at a time when Playa de Muro (and Can Picafort) were the scene of the occasional sunlounger war. Mornings would dawn and damage to sunloungers could be seen. They were being slashed overnight. Repairing them cost a pretty centimo or two. Nothing was ever proven, though the suspicion was that these acts of vandalism were due to differences between competing concessionaires for operating the summer sunloungers.

These concessions were and are pretty good business. A tendency to over-occupy made the business that much more profitable. It was suggested that bidders would in fact make allowance for fines they could anticipate for putting out too many sunloungers. Even with the fines and the charges demanded by the town hall for the concession, six months (or however long) of sunloungers turned in and continue to turn in handsome profits, so long as they've not been eaten into by the cost of repair.

Another part of Playa de Muro's beach (not the one the residents were worried about) is virtually impassable because of the sunloungers. There is a corridor behind them; otherwise it's a walk with the sea lapping over your feet. It's not like this in other parts because the beach is either deeper or there are no sunloungers: in front of the nature park dunes or those stretches which have only residential accommodation and no hotels.

When David Abril of Més announced the other day that his party is seeking to remove sunloungers (and chiringuito bars) from all beaches, my thoughts turned to the situations in Playa de Muro. Over the years they have encapsulated arguments regarding the free space of the beach public domain, the business to be had from beach "exploitation", and beach overcrowding because of the sheer scale of sunlounger occupation.

I don't entirely disagree with what Abril was saying. There is something less than satisfactory about the business exploitation (privatisation, if you want to call it that) of what is meant to be free space. There is also something almost unseemly about the way in which sunloungers on certain stretches of beach can be packed so tightly together and in such number.

Not, however, that I can agree on some sort of blanket ban, while the agreement with Abril only goes so far. It might be greater if one didn't detect that behind the proposal is a further whiff of Més zeal for let's call it (to be kind) touristic reorganisation rather than anti-tourism. And that, moreover, this is a zeal dressed up as environmentalism and even nationalism (of a Mallorcan variety, that is).

Abril will know that in the general scheme of things sunloungers are used by tourists rather than by residents and that there have been those arguments about over-occupation made by residents. He is potentially therefore touching another raw nerve of sentiment and promoting a citizens' yelp against tourism (and saturation).

On the environmental front, we have had the situation at Es Trenc this summer with the demolition of the chiringuitos. This was in fact because of a court decision that applied rules in the national coasts law. It wasn't driven by local eco-politicians but they most certainly latched onto it. To now put up the temporary chiringuitos (if they do indeed appear next summer) will mean overcoming complications as tangled as being able to license an apartment as a holiday rental. Moreover, the chiringuitos' enforcement was a reinforcement of the triumph one of Abril's Més colleagues, environment minister Vidal, had secured with regard to the Es Trenc Nature Park. Més had achieved what had been demanded for years at a beach which is more symbolic of Mallorca's virginal coastline than any other.

Fundamentally, though, underpinning Abril's proposal is Mallorcan nationalist fervour. This nationalism is a Més philosophy, and Abril advocates it more strongly than most. Within the context of the ongoing debate (such as it is) on tourism saturation etc., he has now given greater prominence to the beaches and made an allusion, as have others with like minds, to a time past when there were no "installations" on beaches and when the sands were all romantically rustic and dunes hadn't been flattened and built on.

The justification for his demand is nationalist in that it calls for Balearic powers of control of the beaches. The central government via the Costas Authority has the supreme responsibility for the Spanish nation's beaches, and this is what Abril is seeking to alter. Beaches and sunloungers now enter the nationalism argument, and of this there is a great deal more to be said. Més envisage "our own state" by 2030.

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