Who'd have thought that elections were coming up?
The elections are now just over two months away. On April 3, the decree has to be signed that formally calls the elections, and from that day on there can be no more announcements that might be construed to be election propaganda. This doesn't mean there can't be campaigning - clearly not - but it is basically directed at ruling administrations who are not allowed to, for example, indulge themselves in photo opportunities that publicise whatever the latest project (successful project) happens to be.
A report points out that the Balearic government has typically made half a dozen announcements per working day during its period of office. However, this number has recently trebled; hence why there has been a flurry of information regarding, for instance, new social housing projects.
A lot of talking about housing
Housing, which will be a very important issue at the elections, was up for discussion at the Real Estate Summit in Palma on Tuesday. Politicians were among these in attendance and doing the talking. President Armengol didn't miss the opportunity to note her government's achievements, while the heavyweights for the battle to be Palma's mayor, José Hila of PSOE and Jaime Martínez of the Partido Popular, engaged in political point-scoring and highlighted what they have been doing (in the case of Hila, the current mayor) and will be doing in the future (both of them).
Salient points to emerge from the gathering were that Palma's new urban plan will permit taller buildings, something that the property sector has been advocating; that prices of homes in tourism municipalities increase by 20% more than elsewhere; and that up to 30% of these prices can equate to taxes. It was argued, therefore, that there is "room for manoeuvre to lower prices through fiscal means", while the price increases in tourism municipalities reflect foreign home-buying interest. It was stressed that any possibility of prohibiting sales to non-residents would have a "very complex" journey.
Airbnb "outside the law"
Armengol alluded to the need for housing for tourism purposes "not to compete with that for residents". In this regard, there are two types of housing - one that is licensed for holiday letting and one that is not. The illegal offer concerns properly registered owners as much as it does the government and it is regularly advertised on websites such as Airbnb. Balearic tourism minister Iago Negueruela said at a meeting in Brussels that Airbnb "is a platform that operates outside the law", the Balearic government seeking EU support to make websites responsible for the advertising of illegal properties and to therefore also make them liable for penalties if they don't comply with this responsibility.
Dealing with squatters
There are unquestionably instances of squatting because people are left with little or no alternative. But then there also the victims of squatting, the owners who face great difficulty in reclaiming their properties. The number of criminal proceedings for squatting in the Balearics increased from 285 in 2019 to 509 in 2021, this rise having been attributed to changes to prosecution service criteria for expediting evictions. The number went down to 405 in 2022, but an interpretation of this is the success of these criteria - squatters are more likely to get a criminal record.
Not that there was much deterrence for would-be squatters in Manacor and Palma's Son Gotleu. There were two cases two days apart that the National Police dealt with. They both resulted in the arrests of people who had forced their way into properties. Key to the arrests was that alarms were activated and then swiftly disconnected. Security companies were able to confirm this. The police had been called to both incidents soon after they had occurred. A defence that people had been living in the properties for several days was clearly false, and the alarm activation proved it to be false.
Crime and the foreign vote
Breaking into properties for whatever reason adds to the general crime statistics, and the Balearics have an unwanted lead in this respect. Figures from the national ministry of the interior show that the crime rate in the Balearics in 2022 was 64 crimes per 1,000 inhabitants. This was the highest in Spain, with Catalonia second (61) and Madrid third (59). The rate in Ibiza is the highest of the four islands - 79; Mallorca's matches the 64.
How high does crime figure on the election agenda? Given the unwelcome rate in the Balearics, it should be very high. But even if it is, who will be voting? In the Balearics, 793,123 Spanish citizens will have the vote on May 28. They will be the only ones able to vote for all three elections - the Balearic parliament, the respective island councils, and municipalities. The foreign vote is confined to municipal elections, and it has been revealed that only 16,615 foreigners have registered to vote. A great number of the total of 222,017 foreign citizens (as of January 2022) can't vote either because of age or because there are no reciprocal arrangements with Spain. But all EU citizens can, as also can residents from countries like the UK where reciprocal arrangements exist - 16,615 is a pretty poor number.
More Brits than Germans (officially anyway)
How many UK citizens are there? A second report on population in recent weeks confirms that there are more people from the UK in the Balearics than from Germany - registered people, that is. This is a significant reversal of the situation as it was some ten years ago. Balearics Statistics Institute figures show that in 2012 there were 36,259 Germans and 23,562 Britons. There are now 18,875 and 19,211 respectively. The decreases owe much to changes to tax laws in 2012, although in the case of the British there has been a recent increase - Brexit and a need to register was a factor in over 2,000 more Britons being added to the population statistics in 2022.
Water and heat
For everyone, regardless of nationality, it was reassuring to know that the rain and snow of past weeks have led to a recovery of reservoir capacity. Cúber and Gorg Blau were as low as 35% in November - a worryingly low level - but they are now back to 90%. With the tourism season about to kick in, supply to Palma should not be an issue, but the reservoirs are only one source of supply. Some water from the reservoirs does go to neighbouring municipalities, but the main sources are the aquifers. It's to be hoped that the rains have replenished these as well.
News about water reserves was especially welcome as meteorologists are suggesting that this summer could be hotter than last year. This appears to be based on the fact that in 2022 there was a 'La Niña' event, without which temperatures would have been hotter. Whether a general prediction or not, the fact remains that summers over the past ten years in the Balearics have regularly been among the hottest on record.
Beaches and human pressure
Climate change is a factor in efforts to protect the coasts of Mallorca and the Balearics. Others are human pressure and environmental protection for flora and fauna, both land and marine. Beach bars, as we know, have been a matter of controversy in that they have been subject to demolition or to arrangements whereby they can only be temporary structures for the summer. For Mallorca's east coast, the regional government's natural spaces directorate has drawn up a management plan which will mean there can be no beach bars on virgin beaches.
These are beaches, such as Cala Varques, which do have high human pressure, and the indications are that this pressure will - in general - be every bit as great this summer as it was in 2022 and in summers prior to the pandemic. There may well in fact be a record number of tourists, the early signs seeming to bear this prediction out. Some hotels, it has been reported, have stopped taking bookings for Easter, the most popular resorts being those for which there is typically strong German demand - Cala Millor, Playa de Muro, Playa de Palma.
Away from the beaches, what is this pressure likely to mean for the roads? In Palma, the jams are described as being worse than ever, a consequence of various roadworks happening at the same time. The Paseo Marítimo redevelopment is work that will be continuing over the summer, while the transport sector is warning that the impact of the HOV high-occupancy vehicle lane has yet to truly be tested. It could well be a hot summer for the city's traffic, irrespective of the actual temperatures.
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