Talking to the Councillor for Orihuela Costa, Sr. José Antonio Aniorte Grau, was quite a revelation.
I was particularly looking forward to the interview as it would provide me with the opportunity to find out about so many important issues, and I went prepared to ask questions of particular interest to Orihuela Costa residents.
What is the title of your job and what are your responsibilities?
I am the Delegate Councillor for Works, Infrastructure and Services of Orihuela Costa. I have been in this position for the last four-year term of office and have returned to the job this year after the elections. I am work here in the Town Hall of Orihuela Costa and travel from Orihuela every day, except when I have a local government meeting to attend in Orihuela Town Hall.
What services are offered here in the Orihuela Costa town hall?
Up until four years ago the services offered on the Orihuela Costa were minimal. There were only three members of staff working here and the Councillor was not based here. Now Orihuela Costa Town hall has grown into a full branch of the Orihuela Town Hall with more than 30 people working here, and ninety five per cent of the administration that is done at Orihuela town hall can be done here as well. This means that people do not have the inconvenience of travelling to Orihuela to deal with their paperwork. Before this change the Foreigners Department in Orihuela was experiencing a lot of problems, but now the system is working extremely well. Also, we are now dealing with many of the existing problems on the coast, with many new projects such as the opening of a Senior Citizens Civic Centre this December and a brand new area health centre next summer.
What projects are there regarding transport and communications in the area?
Our biggest problem is the N332 which is due for widening. There have been delays in getting this work underway, but our delegate in the Valencian Community government is working hard to get the matter dealt with. The road widening should be completed by summer 2005. Another problem is the need for what we call the "Via Rápida" a dual carriageway which will connect Orihuela town to the coast. When this is complete it will reduce the journey time to 15 minutes. The Vía Rápida is still at the planning stage and will take another two or three years to complete.
Another problem seems to be the lack of bus service from the coast to Orihuela town.
There is a bus service which operates around Orihuela Costa itself in the summer months which is very useful, and this may possibly be extended next year to operate all the year round. As for a bus linking Orihuela Costa with the town, this has also been thought about, but it won't be happening for another year or two. One of the difficulties is reaching an agreement with the bus companies. At the moment though the connection can be made using the Cartagena bus route.
Is there anything that can be done about the high tolls charged in this area on the A37 motorway?
Well, the toll amount was agreed originally with the private company that owns the motorway and now it is not possible to change it. Of course the area most badly affected by it is the Vega Baja, but unfortunately now we are unable to get rid of it. There have been many protests by oppositions groups and pressure groups to get the tolls removed, but I'm afraid it is not possible.
There seems to be a security problem in this area. What is being done about it?
Well, this is a general problem in Spain, not just in this area. You'll also find the same in surrounding areas, it's not just Orihuela Costa. We are increasing our police force, we added ten more police officers to the force here last year and hope to have ten more again this year. The problem is that many of the people here have holiday homes and the more careless they are, the more there will be opportunistic robberies. Actually, overall the crime rate has gone down.
I believe there is a Neighbourhood Watch scheme operating in the area.
Yes, we have a meeting with them soon. They are in contact with the police and they do a very good job warning people to be more careful.
I've heard that Villa Martin is a particular problem area at the moment, with complaints about inadequate street lighting.
There is a problem on urbanisations that have not been officially handed over to the local council. In this case they don't have normal public services, but once they are handed over, all services, like street lighting, will be put in place without any problem.
Are there enough school places for children moving to the area?
Yes, there are extra school places still available at our schools at present.
I have heard several stories of children not being able to get into local schools.
We do have occasional problems of communication with parents who don't speak Spanish. Sometimes they misunderstand what is said to them. Probably the cases that you are referring to are people who have not yet signed on to the Padrón. Here the problem is one of communication, and also wrong information provided by housing promoters. The fact is that there are school places available in Orihuela Costa.
What are the future plans for education in the area?
The primary school in Playa Flamenca is in the process of being extended and a secondary school is being built next to it. The Primary school in Villa Martín is being moved from pre-fabricated buildings to a permanent construction and at the same time it is also being extended.
Some people in Orihuela Costa seem to have had difficulty signing on the Padrón. Why is this?
There are some delays regarding the Padrón at the moment as we are re-doing the plans for the area, including changing street names and numbers, and this has inevitably held up the process of "empadronamiento" in some cases. However the maximum delay is 15 to 20 days. In the meantime, if someone needs to prove their "empadronamiento" for any particular reason, like registering children at school, they can get a provisional Social Services certificate.
Can anything be done about the prostitutes that stand at the roundabouts along the N332?
Well I hope you've noticed that it is much better now than it was in the summer. Now you don't see many of them at all. Unfortunately you can't ask them to move on as everyone has the right to stand at the side of a road, they could say that they are waiting for a friend.
But it is very obvious why they are there. What about the ones who are illegal immigrants?
Well, if they are illegal they can be arrested by the police, but otherwise there is nothing we can do about them officially.
Why is building allowed to go ahead in this area before the infrastructure is in place?
Well I know that ideally this shouldn't happen, but it's very difficult to do anything about it. It is the developers and promoters who are at fault as they don't complete buildings on the dates they promise. People move into houses with builders supply electricity and water and this causes a lot of problems. Yes, officially the infrastructure should be in place first, but it is a very difficult thing to control when there is such a huge demand.
Is there an urban plan for Orihuela Costa?
Each developer has to submit a partial plan for their areas which shows the distribution of green spaces and so on.
Apart from that, is there an overall plan for the distribution of green spaces and services for the whole urban area?
No, there has never been any mention of an urban plan in the way you describe it.
What should a local resident do if he or she has a complaint to make?
They should come to the town hall and fill in a form which will be passed to relevant person and dealt with. Each form is numbered and can be traced so that it has to go through an official process.
There were some complaints at the last election that a lot of people did not receive voting papers. Is this true?
This is completely wrong. Anyone who wished to vote in the last election was able to do so. Some people think if they sign on the Padron then everything is done for them. Anyone could have come here and done the paperwork to be able to vote. For the European elections in 2004, if people want to vote they can come here and fill in relevant form without any problem.
Perhaps because of the wide range of my questions, Señor Aniorte was careful to consult some of his excellent members of staff before providing me with an answer. Indeed the people I came across who are employed at the Orihuela Costa Town Hall struck me as intelligent, well informed and helpful. I also felt satisfied that I had learned enough from Señor Aniorte himself to give the residents of Orihuela Costa an idea of just who their local councillor is and what he is doing on their behalf.
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com