Mondragó beach bar. | Archive

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In 1951, the first chiringuito beach bar emerged in Mallorca. It was on the beach in S'Illot, a place like nearby Cala Millor which is split between two municipalities. Whereas Cala Millor is shared by Sant Llorenç and Son Servera, S'Illot falls under Manacor and Sant Llorenç.

Back in the day, the early fifties, they began to develop some plots of land for S'Illot, which meant that two town halls were drawing up plans, such as they would have been. But a beach bar wouldn't have appeared on these rudimentary municipal plans. No one had considered the possibility, and so no one would have been able to point to any regulations. Want a beach bar? Why not. Just stick one up. The beach was the Wild West, or the Wild East in the case of S'Illot, or the Wild North in Alcudia, where the year before a Belgian and a Frenchman had pitched up with some army surplus tents, commandeered a part of the beach and founded Club Med.

The S'Illot bar proved to be popular. Island residents liked it, as did rarely sighted tourists in this greatly undeveloped part of Mallorca. The beach bar was for the people, and the beach was for the people, those who - by the early fifties - were beginning to truly appreciate the beach's potential for leisure time.

Seventy-one years ago, there was no Costas Authority, but on the statute book was a law from 1928. No building could be undertaken on beaches without permission from the competent administration. But who had the competence? And even if this were clear, how would this competence be exercised, and for what? A little beach bar was inoffensive, inconsequential. It took until 1964 to establish regional coastal headquarters and so the offices of the Costas.

In recent times, the Costas and the Balearic environment ministry have appeared to be almost inseparable, such has been the collaboration on matters to do with beaches. Certain town halls have been allies as well. But not all. Santanyi wasn't impressed by the decision to get rid of the Cala Mondragó chiringuito. Campos has been even less impressed by the regulations governing the Es Trenc bars. Santanyi and Campos have been Partido Popular pockets of resistance to the left "pacts" of government and Council of Mallorca since 2015.

But not so Calvia, where the mayor, Alfonso Rodríguez, is frequently to be seen in the same photographic frames with Francina Armengol, Catalina Cladera and Iago Negueruela, and with the environmental controllers of Més - Vicenç Vidal and now Miquel Mir.

Vidal, in his role as a senator, has been the one who has really pressed the case for greater control. As a bargaining chip for budget support, he got agreement from the Sánchez government for a transfer of coastal competences. From next year, the Costas responsibilities will pass to the regional environment ministry.

So, will Alfonso Rodríguez be knocking on the ministry's door and asking if Calvia can have its land in Illetes back so that the town hall can "re-naturalise" it? Extraordinarily enough, the Costas said yes to a chiringuito, Calvia having said no. What had happened to that collaboration and to the usual process therefore of demolition or replacement by demountable bars?

I've read comments questioning Calvia's stance. Does the town hall not ask residents what they want before voicing opposition to a chiringuito? Well, I'm not sure that the town hall needed to. There has been local opposition as the beach bar apparently interferes with resident ability to get to the sea and bathe, while the locals can't understand why a bar has been built when others elsewhere have been forced to close for environmental reasons.

I can't vouch for the impact on having a swim (that seems somewhat overstated), but it would seem that not everyone is in favour. In which case, is the town hall not defending the interests of local people, or some at any rate?

It does seem curious that the Costas have bucked a trend to which they have been willing participants. In so doing, they may have given ammunition to the regional environment ministry for when it assumes responsibilities for the coasts - for the remainder of the current administration anyway. A different political complexion after the elections in May 2023 - a possibility, no more than that - and policies will not be the same. Even so, there is that trend, despite the Costas having bucked it.

Beach bars for the people and the beach for the people - the latter, in principle, is true. There is a constitutional right of free access, but as for beach bars, much though the people love them, not all the people agree. For me, and in the environmental scheme of things, I struggle to understand why there is the administrative gunning for chiringuitos as we have witnessed recently. But this said, we don't live in 1951. In 2022, we have to ask what the beach is for and how we treat it.