People sitting on a terrace in Palma. | Archives

According to well-worn cliché, newly elected politicians are meant to hit the ground running. One couldn’t really see Jaime Martínez doing this literally but his number two at Palma town hall might conceivably be able to manage it. Javier Bonet, aka Mr. Marga Prohens, is in fact already covering a great deal of ground, all of it familiar. It is the curse of any Palma councillor to be handed the short straw of figuring out what the hell to do with the Gesa building, but multitasked as Javier has been by Jaime, he can’t really have any complaints. Culture is but one of these, with the Gesa building being lined up for a spot of refurb as an international museum for a Palma which is to become the epicentre for culture in the Med.This grand announcement is clear evidence of ground being hit running, even if the groundwork Javier is preparing is unlikely to result in anything concrete (or as concrete as the original building) before the next election in 2027. He has hit the ground running at high speed in the general direction of the Gesa building but has unfortunately smacked straight into a wall - the obstacle of the town hall not actually owning the building.

Still, a minor detail that can no doubt be sorted out with Endesa. And while it is, Javier has plenty of other ground to cover, as it doesn’t take long for a new and enthusiastic councillor to discover that there is a great deal of publicity mileage to be gained by making proposals regarding bar and restaurant terraces, of which there are very many in Palma. And so that is exactly what Javier has done; his multitasking includes restaurants, oh and tourism.

The new administration, it is said, wishes the city's restaurants to be one of the strong points for promotion to tourists. Really? Whoever would have thought that? Well, as it turns out, quite possibly not the councillor who was on terraces' duty from 2015 to 2019. Aurora Jhardi of Podemos once stated - this was when Mayor Hila was off on his summer hols - that the city was saturated with tourists. Something needed to be done, although she didn't directly propose pulling the ground away from under bar and restaurant proprietors' feet. No, she only spent the entire period of administration having seemingly wished to brass the proprietors off at every conceivable opportunity.

It all started with the nonsensical citizens’ consultation (referendum) about eliminating terraces from the Born. The citizens gave a resounding no, the only positive for Aurora having been that it had been an exercise in citizen democracy, even if the number of citizens who bothered to vote was negligible. Stung by this inevitable rejection, Aurora then proceeded to manage by the millimetre. Or so it appeared, given convoluted regulations that were drafted regarding terrace space.

In July 2018, the town hall approved new ordinance for the occupation of the public way, which basically meant terraces. Among its many contents were rules for terrace furniture. Chapter Four itemised regulations for the likes of tables and chairs and parasols. Essentially, there were to be neutral colours, nothing “flashy” or harmful to the image of the city.

I mention this because Javier Bonet is saying exactly the same thing; exactly what already exists in town hall ordinance. In other words, it’s nothing new, though the way that it has been presented suggests that it is. The novelty does perhaps lie with a Javier desire for everything to be agreed with the bar and restaurant sector, which was something that neither Aurora nor her Podemos successor, Alberto Jarabo, were ever likely to achieve, such was the distance between the two sides.

Alberto it was who insisted on the removal of terrace enclosures, which affected 127 establishments, but who discovered - a couple of weeks after the deadline - that he needed to completely rethink terraces because the pandemic had broken out. Amidst crisis, some harmony was achieved, while harmony of terrace furniture and appearance hadn’t been.

It is perfectly reasonable to wish to do this, even if Javier seems to be neglecting the fact that the ordinance wherewithal already applies. If it means eliminating garish colours and wildly clashing exterior designs, then fine, so long as there can be financial assistance if need be. In terms of tourist image, it will mean improvement, this harmonisation of appearance having been introduced elsewhere on the island and indeed already been accepted in parts of Palma, such as the Paseo Marítimo.

The town hall reckons that the makeover of terraces will also act as a promotion of restaurants to residents. Which it may well be. But residents, such as those in La Lonja, have other things on their mind - the opening hours. The ground is being hit running, terraces can go back to closing at half past midnight. Residents will be furious, but Javier has a defence; the courts have ruled an 11pm closing time (an Aurora Jhardi introduction) null and void.

Terraces, a favourite pastime of town halls, not just Palma’s. And there will always be someone who is brassed off.