The mayor, Víctor Navas, takes stock of the year that expires and tells us about the projects that will be carried out in Benalmádena in 2022. This year has been marked by the reorganization of priorities, emphasizing the business fabric and families, so hard hit by the pandemic. However, the City Council has done its homework to be able to participate in grants with which to undertake improvements in Benalmádena, many of them within the objectives and strategies of sustainable development. Although 2021 has been a municipal year of planning in terms of projects, 2022 brings under its arm 30 million euros that Benalmadenses will see crystallized in new parks, improved streets or the enhancement of our archaeological heritage for the enjoyment of both citizens as foreigners, and as a relevant vein of tourist attraction.
-I imagine that the pandemic and its aftermath in different areas have forced you to reformulate your objectives and priorities for the municipality during this year 2021 …
-The reality is that we already reorganized the City Council in 2020. Note that we left on a Friday working on investments and we arrived on a Monday making every effort to give an answer to the citizens who were confined. We had to change the way of working diametrically … we stopped giving aid to sports, to Holy Week … to dedicate ourselves to dealing with problems of companies that had closed or were at the limit, of the hotel plant that could not open, to generate employment, to reactivate the economic fabric of the city, in short.
Our priority in the last year and a half has completely changed. We have promoted municipal employment plans to be able to generate work from the City Council itself, drafted bases for the call for aid for residential rental, aid for the hotel plant or such as theRe-Open for self-employed and micro SMEs, and we set out to launch an ambitious investment plan…
Taking stock, I think we have not done badly: in recent months Benalmádena has had the best employment figures since even before the pandemic. In fact, since 2006 we have not had such good employment data. In the last year, 250 people have worked thanks to the employment plans promoted by the City Council.
From Social Services, numerous grants have also been granted. Before the pandemic we had four UTS (Social Work Unit) and we have now had 7. I cannot say that I am 100% satisfied because it would be total perfectionism, but I believe that we have been able to react in time and give a response to the citizens.
-Municipalities with similar characteristics to Benalmádena put the accent on tourist rental, however, you have focused your efforts on residential and even social …
-Before the pandemic we already wanted to encourage long-term rental. There was a deficit in the rental supply for the whole year and there were even companies that told us that they could not transfer workers because they could not find a house to live in Benalmádena. Before the pandemic, what we did is abolish the exemplary citizen assistance with respect to the IBI in those homes intended for tourist rental and offer a tax incentive for long-term rentals.
During the pandemic, the central government created a social shield to protect those families that could not afford to pay their rent or mortgage, but as it ends in February, we set out to create a housing fund for the social system.
What the City Council will do is summon this exchange and whoever wants to, can rent their home to the Town Hall. We pay him 5 years of rent with the intention of being able to have a housing stock that families with few economic resources can access while they recover.
We have received calls from other consistories interested in exporting this project to their localities. The conditions offered by the City Council to the owners are good: seven euros per square meter, and in addition to ensuring payment we also do it with respect to the conditions in which they offer their home. The only thing we do not know is the number of owners who are going to participate in this initiative …
-Although Benalmádena is a city dependent on tourism, the City Council has been betting on alternatives to break with seasonality either through major sporting events or even with the enhancement of archaeological heritage, do you plan to take any more action to overcome tourist seasonality?
-It is very difficult to break with seasonality because tourism depends on many factors. Family tourism, for example, works only in summer when there are school holidays… The rest of the year, retired tourists are attracted, or without family dependents, health tourism… Benalmádena now wants to bet on getaway tourism.
Our city has a pretty good occupation. We have also wanted to diversify our business fabric, but it is not easy because not all the industry combines with tourism …
-However, this year the business fabric and the local labor market have diversified with, for example, the implementation of the Webhelp Hub in Solymar …
-That’s what I meant … that the business fabric must be diversified but in line with the tourism sector. We must take advantage of teleworking, the digital nomads who call them … it is a strength that we must exploit.
-Throughout 2021 you have held meetings with international groups, has any commitment or investment emerged for Benalmádena from those meetings?
-They are ties that you reinforce with other nationalities and are beneficial for Benalmádena. Chinese tourism for example is annual, it is not seasonal. The Armenian church that will be created in Benalmádena will also be one more tourist addition in the long run. They are ties that must be strengthened and that can develop important projects either for them to come here, or for our entrepreneurs to go there …
-This 2021 Benalmádena has hit a stretch. Specifically, it has grown 74,500 meters in the Higuerón area. What facilities has the City Council given to these neighbors for their adaptation? How has the definitive demarcation with Fuengirola affected at the tax collection level?
– Indeed, Benalmádena has grown (smiles). The neighbors have been given all the facilities so that it is not a traumatic change. However, almost all the services were provided to these neighbors by Benalmádena, although the taxes were paid in Fuengirola.
This is a historic claim that sat in a drawer for nearly a decade. Political stability in our city, one of the things it is promoting is solving many issues that have been bitter for years and years. It was fair that these homes were taxed in our city, which is the one that provides them with services.
-This year that is about to expire has also been characterized by the implementation or projection of different initiatives in environmental matters such as the green corridor between the Library and García Lorca, the management plan for the trees or the Albaytar park …
-If we want to access European aid, we have to be rooted in or connected to environmental conservation. For example, the tree plan makes a relevant sense. In these years ago, the usual thing was that when trees were planted, then those requested by the neighbors or those of rapid growth were put, but the reality is that we must have prior planning that until now there was neither here, nor in other Administrations local. Until seven or eight years ago there was no planning in this sense in city councils, and urban agendas and the SDGs are precisely that: development strategies. In short, what they ask of the city councils is that we plan ourselves within some recommendations before requesting aid.
I would like to explain that it is not planned at our whim, or arbitrarily according to the Government team on duty, but that social agents, citizens, technicians are involved … The projects that are coming out in Benalmádena have the consensus of many groups and specialists.
-Perhaps the most popular bet in 2021 has been the urban strategy of sustainable development of Benalmádena for the remodeling of the Coast. The traffic reorganization project has not been without controversy. To clarify some points for the public, do you have a project?
-Of course there is a project, and with a previous work of citizen participation in the drafting and strategy, valued by the EU.
-When do you expect the works to start?
-The works as such are not going to start now. It is true that prior to this, there are traffic problems and our duty is to mitigate them. One of the problems that prevents precisely attenuating traffic in that area is the median, which makes it difficult and, therefore, the first action will be its elimination.
-What alternatives is your idea to put into practice to alleviate a possible collapse in road traffic such as the one that occurred in the summer months?
-In 2019 we did a mobility study that showed us the alternative routes. They indicated that there was the same traffic density in one direction as in another. In Antonio Machado, there are currently specific problems of traffic collapse in the hours of entry and exit from schools and little else, because if it were a constant, it would have on the table police reports or from specialists in the sector … no professional union has complained to us beyond a neighborhood group that I met a few days ago and tried to explain the project to.
It is true that, as the mobility study warned us, in the summer due to an increase in vehicles, collapse problems can occur. This summer we carry out what is called tactical urbanism; doing low-cost and short-term tests to see how the road performed.
There are many alternatives that can be put in place to alleviate the traffic in summer. From prohibiting access to vehicles that are not authorized as occurs, for example, in the center of Malaga, promoting public transport or any other initiative aimed at improving the flow of traffic in the area.
But we must understand is that that – by Antonio Machado – is no longer a national highway. It is one more street in the city where you can drive at a maximum of 30 km per hour, and therefore you drive slower than before that you could drive much faster.
-What will they do with the palm trees in the median that will be eliminated in Antonio Machado?
-Regarding 121 palm trees, there is a plan to transplant them in various areas of the town, since being a high number we cannot put them all in the same nucleus. In any case, I want to clarify that they are not a protected species, but even so we are not going to cut them down but to transplant them.
-The new year comes with an ambitious improvement project for El Gamonal, where in the last 30 years no improvements have been made, how will this project benefit the people of Benalmadena?
-This project also subscribes to the framework of the Edusi as that of the Coast. Specifically, the pavement will be expanded, traffic and public spaces will also be reorganized for the enjoyment of citizens.
Obviously the trees will also be modified, which will be replaced, if necessary, by the most suitable according to the municipal tree plan and the recommendations published by the Autonomous Administration in this regard.
Before, for example, fast-growing or easily maintained trees were planted and now, there is a very complete document that is based on different factors to bet on one species or another in a specific area of the city. In general, they advise shade trees and do not name, for example, neither palm trees nor ficus.
-This year you have regretted on different occasions the failure of the Junta to Benalmádena with, for example, the Tivoli conflict or the future construction of the comprehensive Alzheimer’s center … If your pulse did not tremble to write to Boris Johnson to save the tourist season, Why don’t you meet in person or by video call with Juanma Moreno and ask him for more involvement in our city?
-I have done. I speak with the Board’s delegates in Málaga almost daily and with the president I have also had several conversations.
-So, what happens to the Junta with Benalmádena?
-This is what happens to all of Andalusia. They said that years of “socialist paralysis” were going to change, according to them, and now they are the same or worse than when they started. It is true that with the pandemic it has been difficult to do things, but in terms of management in these four years, in Benalmádena they have not done anything because, for example, from the school and institute we only have a commitment since they have not approved the budgets, in health the high resolution hospital has not been expanded … It is their ideological model. Instead of building public hospitals, they prefer to give money to private health so that it reaches where they cannot.
-Regarding the complaint about the charter award process so far, as I think the door is open for an appeal, it has come out in favor of the City Council. A few weeks ago, on November 20, the trial was held with the owner of the Mississippi ship ‘Willow’, can you tell us something about this matter?
-Sorry. I cannot speak because it is under summary, but I can tell you that we are optimistic about it.
-The modification of the municipal capital gain will give a good bite to the municipal coffers, how do you plan to alleviate this deficit? Will taxes go up?
-The fall in Benalmádena is estimated at almost four million less than what we had planned to collect. Right now, as Benalmádena has healthy accounts, there are no debts and tax management is efficient (we don’t have much delinquency), we will not have to raise taxes, but what is clear is that the municipalities will have to compensate us in some way.
Benalmádena is not going to raise any taxes because we cannot ask for an effort from a citizenry that has just emerged from a pandemic. There will be municipalities that have to do it forced because they carry a significant debt. Nobody likes to take these types of measures, but as I have told you in Benalmádena we will not have to.
-The area of Culture is a very important pillar in Benalmádena. It is managed by IU, its government partner. What is your assessment of this municipal delegation? This year there has also been a change of councilor …
-Elena Galán has been one of the best that Benalmádena has had in Culture and I think Pablo Centella is also doing a great job. We have had few means but great cultural programs have been carried out and our goal is to continue enhancing Culture in our city.
-What will be the star project in Benalmádena for the new year?
-By 2022 there are planned 30 million in investments that citizens will see in the asphalting of 80 percent of streets, the creation of the Albaytar park, the remodeling of Antonio Machado, the enhancement of archaeological sites, the opening of Anica Torres , in the improvement of El Gamonal, the green corridor … Benalmadenses will be able to see this investment in countless projects scattered throughout the city, because it is not like before that only a megalomaniac work was made in which a large investment was made but in just a project, but now what it is about is to maintain the city and improve it for the enjoyment of all citizens. Next year comes loaded with projects for Benalmádena that will also generate employment.