Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It's Time For GOB To Shut Up

Four years ago, in marking the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Grup Ornitològic de Balears, I concluded that GOB had "moved a long way from its original remit but that its relevance (was) stronger than ever". This was a conclusion drawn partly from the fact that tourism and population growth had been placing ever greater strains on Mallorca. There were reasons to praise GOB, such as its historical involvement with preventing development on the island of Dragonera or the work over the decades at the La Trapa biological reserve in the Tramuntana. There is a great deal to admire about GOB; it is an organisation that represents the environmental conscience of Mallorca and has been the island's environmental soul since the 1970s. I'm not a paid-up member of GOB but I often voice my support. However ... .

Two years before that article, I had spoken about issues in which GOB had involved itself but which had little to do with its stated objectives of the "conservation, dissemination and study of nature and the environment of the Balearic Islands". One issue was having leapt to the defence of the TV Mallorca radio and television station. A further was having been part of an anti-corruption platform established in 2010. Broadcasting can be valuable in conveying messages about the environment. Corruption can lead to development that is destructive of the environment. Neither issue was totally divorced from the GOB objectives but then neither was directly associated with them.

A bus station is to be built in Puerto Pollensa. It will make use of an existing development: a small plot owned by the municipality that was tarmacked in the recent past and made into a proper car park. The bus station is necessary, and one of its purposes will be to act as the terminal for a shuttle service to Formentor. The shuttle has been deemed to be a requirement to counteract the "saturation" of vehicles that go along the promontory's twisty road to the lighthouse. It is a sort of environmental solution.

GOB disagrees with this bus station. It doesn't disagree with the principle of the bus station, just its location. It would prefer it to be sited close to what has been described as the "green heart" of Puerto Pollensa, the small park of La Gola, with a lake that is the confluence of the torrent and of the sea. GOB's proposed site wouldn't be environmentally detrimental but it would nevertheless be in an area of greater environmental sensitivity than the site where the bus station will be built.

GOB's objection has to do with the Pollensa town hall general urban plan. The site for the bus station, the organisation says, can only be used for sociocultural, sporting or health care reasons or as an open public space. A bus station is therefore contrary to this plan. The town hall, and here one encounters semantics, says that it isn't a bus station, only bus stops. However it is defined is largely immaterial; GOB has been raising an objection that has nothing whatsoever to do with its objectives. The bus station is an urban planning matter, pure and simple.

Here is an example of where the organisation stretches the limits of its remit and indeed exceeds them, as was the case with TV Mallorca. There are other entities whose roles are to challenge matters such as a bus station: political parties, for instance. But it is here where the problem with GOB lies. It acts like a political party without having any of the responsibility. Its power base has grown enormously since it started life as a bird conservation organisation. It has become inherent to the political process to the extent that its representation on the tourist tax revenue spending committee equates to that of the federation for all the town halls in the Balearics (except Palma).

When GOB fired off a statement attacking the farmers and hunters ("the defenders of the rural world") for their recent protest over government environmental policies, it was seeking to make sure that the government didn't back track; a government it would hope to be highly receptive to its wishes. It is engaged in a battle for who owns the environment, when in fact it belongs to everyone, and that includes those who adhere to a rural way of life, such as the farmers.

But more than this are the politics. There is a GOB youth wing. It has been intimately linked with the highly radical Arran and Endavant groups in attacking tourism. GOB itself was the main organiser of the "massification" demo last month. Its political nature has now become almost indistinguishable from a left-wing, Catalanist, nationalist or independence agenda.

In so doing it can alienate. The environment crosses the spectrum of political views. It is to be defended but not in such a partisan way. GOB's constant interference generates just this sort of alienation. It needs to know when to shut up.

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