It is now over a year ago that Pollensa town hall was insisting that the Council of Majorca and the owner of La Fortalesa, James Lupton, should come to some agreement regarding access to the public and so therefore to allowing the public to visit the estate.
The then mayor, Miquel Àngel March, was prompted into once more raising this touchy subject because La Fortalesa was about to be used, and not for the first time, for location work. Famously a setting for "The Night Manager", there was filming last March for the Netflix series "Turn Up Charlie".
March reckoned that the Council should, if necessary, impose a system for visits. "If the owners want to then appeal this, they will do so, but visits are protected by the heritage law." La Fortalesa, the former mayor pointed out, used to be a "public fortress". This was before it was privatised, "like many other fortifications in Majorca, such as the Castell del Rei (also in Pollensa)". He observed that the owners were making "all kinds of excuses", yet there were examples of private properties with listed status having been opened to the public, e.g. Son Torrella in Santa Maria.
La Fortalesa has BIC status. In other words, it is an asset in the cultural interest. But it doesn't automatically follow that a property with this classification is open to the public. Former mayor March's reference to the heritage law, while correct, still involves agreement with estate owners. In addition, and where La Fortalesa is concerned, there is the complicating factor of its location; access by land is via the military base.
There used to also be an argument against visits because La Fortalesa occupied a strategic location; strategic in a military sense. This is an argument that is no longer used, albeit that it is when it comes to denying public access to the base. The ministry of defence and the base's commanders don't have any particular issue regarding La Fortalesa access. In December 2015, Colonel Román Carlos Martínez said that there didn't have to be a problem with allowing visits, so long as the necessary permission was given. "There is an entrance on the perimeter, which is away from the military unit and is the one used by the owner. It doesn't interrupt activity on the base and doesn't entail entry into security areas. It would be sufficient to notify us in timely fashion for it to be open for visits."
At the time when Colonel Martínez was speaking, the then councillor for urban planning at the town hall, Tomeu Cifre Bennàsar, was in discussion with representatives of the owner regarding visits. These would be in accordance with what the heritage law provides - visits on four days a month at agreed times. These visits would be to the grounds and not the buildings.
Since then, of course, there has been no progress, while local frustration at the lack of agreement for visits has grown. Netflix filming an exclusive party with music and lights was one thing. Then came the most publicised shindig of the lot - Rafa Nadal's wedding in October last year.
The Council of Majorca is now working on a scheme to enable visits to a number of private properties that have BIC status, La Fortalesa being one of them. The Council's director for heritage, Kika Coll, is talking about there being a "pilot plan" for visits. This plan wouldn't be a blanket scheme, as it would require individual agreements with owners. Without specifying which ones, she accepts that some arrangements will be easier than others. The intention, nevertheless, is to try and open up properties where owners are willing to allow visits. And La Fortalesa would appear to be one of these.
Sa Pobla angry with the government
The agriculture minister, Mae de la Concha, doesn't seem to have totally endeared herself to the farming community. While she has expressed all manner of support for local produce and stressed the importance of the agricultural sector, it can often appear as if she is having to react to criticisms.
Over a week ago, Sa Pobla was hit by the hailstorm which is reckoned to have meant the loss of up to 2,500 tonnes of potatoes. The mayor of Sa Pobla, Llorenç Gelabert, said that the hail had "destroyed the crop". He and the farming community were not impressed by the ministry's response. They were in fact downright angry.
The town hall and the potato producers have been compiling their own data regarding the damage. This information is said to contrast with that of the ministry, who put in an appearance on Monday. The minister and the agriculture director-general, Biel Torrens, promised to help "as much as possible", but this had to take into account "the social situation we are in". Indeed, and a social situation about which so much has been said with regard to the value of local produce.
Town halls needing cash
Pollensa's mayor, Tomeu Cifre Ochogavia, says that the economic impact of the virus and the state of alarm is going to be "savage". Town halls like Pollensa's which derive significant revenue both directly and indirectly from tourism are facing situations whereby this revenue all but dries up. And while the revenue decreases, the demands for assistance increase, be these for social or business help, with businesses wanting taxes to be waived.
Joan Monjo, Santa Margalida's deputy mayor, says much the same thing as Cifre, and it will be the same situation in Alcudia and Muro as well. One way that the town halls can generate some revenue is through building licences. Whereas the construction industry has often been critical of town halls' slowness and bureaucracy, a speeding-up of the permissions' processes is now to be expected.
Meanwhile, however, the town halls have to find money from somewhere, and the most obvious source is what they have sitting in banks in the form of budget surpluses which state law doesn't allow them to spend. In Alcudia, this is over 80 million euros. Pollensa has some 25 million euros.
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