Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Son Real And EcoTax Mark II

There's another idea for spending tourist tax revenue. It's Son Real. Son Real, some of you might be thinking. Wasn't that bought with the old ecotax money? You would be right. It was. In fact the Son Real finca was the star purchase of that old ecotax, so much so that before the then government had even received any revenue from the first season of the tax's operation (2002), it had definitively agreed to pay the owners 12 million euros for what in fact was slightly less than half of the whole estate. Some will argue that the ecotax was dreamt up in order to buy Son Real.

So, Son Real is raising its ugly head again. Not, it should be stressed, that there is anything ugly with the finca. The ugliness applies to what have been fifteen years of mainly gross incompetence and mismanagement, with the regional government firmly to blame.

It is Santa Margalida town hall which is putting Son Real back on the tourist tax (aka ecotax) map. And what a map it is. There's an enormous one that the mayor, Joan Monjo, can point to in identifying where tax revenue would be spent, two sub-fincas totalling 137 hectares in size. The 2002 ecotax money secured 395 hectares for the government; the whole of the Son Real estate is 856 hectares.

Why does the town hall want these additional hectares to be acquired? Essentially, or so it would seem, so that there can be even more protection of Son Real than there already is by having it declared a nature park. It would therefore become another nature park on the bay of Alcudia, quite close to the one that already exists - Albufera, most of which falls within the neighbouring municipality of Muro.

As things stand, there can't be any development on Son Real as it is classified as an area of special natural interest. There was, some years ago, a proposal for a golf course. You can imagine that that went down like a lead balloon in environmentalist and indeed other circles. The proposal was dropped and will never be revived, which might be to the disappointment of the owner of one of the sub-fincas that Joan Monjo has his eye on. This is the smaller one of the two, a mere 37 hectares. It apparently belongs to a Lebanese businessman, who had acquired the land with the idea of developing it. The businessman, says Monjo, got himself a whole load of pine forest that cannot be developed.

If there is already protection, then what real difference would there be by having Son Real declared a nature park? The mayor argues that there would be specific plans for its management and its organisation. This may well be the case, but aren't there already management plans?

Monjo does have a point about the management. It has improved, but as an example of the mismanagement, one can go back to a time some five years ago when bikes that were meant to be for hire weren't available, the museum was regularly closed and when it was open, the audiovisual kit wasn't working. The management was a shambles. The town hall even took it upon itself to do maintenance.

But being a nature park doesn't seem to guarantee good management. The environmentalists GOB have consistently pointed to deficiencies at Albufera. Only recently, when the environment ministry announced it was recruiting new agents for its Ibanat agency, GOB made the point again about deficient management and surveillance of the Albufera park.

Son Real does deserve a great deal better. The past fifteen years have been testimony to no small amount of ineptitude. It is a finca, because of the necropolis for example, that is of great cultural interest as well as being of environmental importance. A nature park, in theory, isn't a bad idea. Buying the finca in the first place wasn't a bad idea. It was just that it was bought, almost as some sort of vanity scheme, and then allowed to be mismanaged.

The cynic in me almost wonders whether having a nature park in Santa Margalida is because the rival neighbours, Muro, have got one of their own. The two town halls are frequently at loggerheads because of plans for the new sewage plant, though in fact where Son Real is concerned, they are in agreement in wanting a separate project to be paid for with tourist tax revenue: a more modest one worth 360,000 euros for an archaeological route.

How much would be needed to acquire the additional 137 hectares? Given the purchase in 2002 and with an upward adjustment, probably around five million euros. And what would be the cost for managing it as a nature park? Will there be tourist tax funding? The current government knows about the controversies of the old ecotax. Son Real was symptomatic.

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