"Voting shambles", was a description of voter experience in the municipal elections in Orihuela on 24 May. There was indignation that deliberate confusion and even manipulation of voting districts, had been used by members of the previous government to frustrate voters in Orihuela Costa.
At the time of the last local elections, changes were made to the location of polling stations, causing confusion and obliging some voters, for example those living in Playa Flamenca, to travel up to 6 kilometres to vote in the little known and badly signposted Reading Point. This contributed to a low level of voter participation in Orihuela Costa. These practices were undemocratic and obstructed the exercise of the right to vote of hundreds of Orihuela Costa residents and were certainly sufficient to deny C.L.A.R.O. continued representation in the Council.
The practices were denounced by C.L.A.R.O. at the time and were fully documented in a complaint made to the new Mayor of Orihuela. He has now replied to the President of C.L.A.R.O. stating that after consulting the electoral authorities (Censo Electoral), it has been confirmed that the Town Hall is able to increase the number of polling stations to reduce the distances voters have to travel to vote, provided that the polling stations are located in premises owned by the Town Hall to ensure that they are not changed from one election to another which it is acknowledged causes confusion.
The Mayor has promised to introduce changes which will ensure compliance with the principles laid down by the electoral authorities when they have publicly owned premises.
C.L.A.R.O. welcomes this commitment by the new Popular Party Mayor of Orihuela. The indignation felt after the local elections in May was justified. It should be possible to introduce these changes and facilitate voting by Spanish citizens as soon as the national elections to be held in December. Public premises exist, prominently and conveniently located in schools or the municipal Sports Centre, for example, to ensure that voters do not have to travel unreasonable distances.
By the time of the next municipal and European Parliament elections the changes can certainly be made to ensure that obstacles to voting of both Spanish and non-Spanish EU residents can no longer be imposed. The Mayor's commitment should also ensure that the out of date Spanish law which does not include the number of non-Spanish EU voters in the calculation of the number of polling stations created, is not applied again to reduce the number of polling stations in Orihuela Costa and to obstruct the democratic rights of residents to vote to defend their interests in determining the composition of the municipal government. NO VOTE NO VOICE.
Good news. The Valencia regional government is reported to be questioning a mega-project to build nearly 4000 new houses in Orihuela Costa which could increase the population by some 10,000 new residents. Orihuela Costa already has 35,000 residents, more than Orihuela city, contributes over 60% of the revenues of the municipality and receives in return inadequate services such as street cleaning, has no proper parks and gardens and not even a police station open 24 hours a day. Given the inability of Orihuela Town Hall to plan and provide adequate services for the existing 35,000 residents of Orihuela Costa, to allow an increase in the population of some 10,000 residents would be a disaster for the quality of life of those living on the coast.
This mega building project would be situated in Orihuela Costa, on the San Miguel-Pilar road, close to Campoamor golf club and bordering the natural park of Sierra Escalona. The area it would cover is a massive 1,400,000 square metres on land full of pine trees, orange and lemon trees, and other vegetation. It is said to have a wildlife population of birds and animals including owls and eagles, similar to that of Sierra Escalona which has been designated a natural park to ensure their environmental protection. The area it would cover is also some 500 metres from the Campoamor burning waste tip, close to Las Ramblas urbanisation and golf course, which is spewing out toxic fumes endangering the health of those living nearby as well as the environment generally. The environmental damage as such as well as the proximity of the illegal burning waste tip are further reasons for not allowing this mega-building project.
regional government of Valencia is to be congratulated on subjecting this environmentally destructive project, entitled PAU-5, to the closest scrutiny. The project dates back to 1994. It was approved by the Orihuela Popular Party government in 2009 and was denounced by C.L.A.R.O. then for the environmental destruction it would involve. It has not yet been approved by the Valencia regional government. The fact that the new Master Plan for Orihuela is nearing completion and may not include provision for such a project is reported to be the reason for the developer to be anxious to speed up approval. In the past this would have been tantamount to getting approval, but no longer. An ecological friendly government is in power in Valencia and they are carrying out an environmental impact study of PAU-5 seeking the contribution of groups such as the Friends of Sierra Escalona who are strongly opposed to major urban developments in environmentally sensitive areas. They opposed the Colinas Golf project which is close by and actually in the geographic area of Sierra Escalona.
C.L.A.R.O. urges the government of Orihuela and the political parties in the Town Council to oppose the PAU-5 mega project and to ensure that in the new Master Plan for Orihuela it and similar mega projects would be excluded. We challenge the previous Socialist Party councillor for Urban Affairs to confirm that the Master Plan which he was then responsible for would exclude the PAU-5 project. He must appreciate that the realisation of such a project would not only be disastrous for the environment but also, because of insufficient services and infrastructure in Orihuela Costa, would be disastrous for the quality of life of residents.
We urge the government of Valencia to oppose this project and to turn its attention as soon as possible to the future of Cala Mosca, the last green area on Orihuela Costa. The plan to build 1,500 new houses on Cala Mosca, another mega project which would add 5,000 new residents to the coastal population, has been stopped by a decision of the European Parliament on the basis of a C.L.A.R.O. petition signed by over 7,000 people presented to the parliament in 2010. The European Parliament has insisted on the need for a public consultation and environmental impact study which previous Orihuela governments had avoided. Two years ago, C.L.A.R.O. organised the submission of over 1,000 complaints (alegaciones) against this building project in the context of these consultation and environmental impact study procedures.
The government of Valencia has the next word to say on the future of Cala Mosca and we hope, like PAU-5, this project will also be rejected.