The Andalusian Government gives its final approval to open a hotel in the Cabo de Gata natural park | Climate and Environment

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The Andalusian Government gives its final approval to open a hotel in the Cabo de Gata natural park | Climate and Environment
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The Junta de Andalucía has taken another step to open a hotel with 30 rooms and 70 parking spaces in the heart of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Sustainable Development has granted the Unified Environmental Authorization (AAU) to the project, which aims to rehabilitate the old Las Chiqueras farmhouse for tourist use. The space, where there are several buildings of what was formerly an esparto rope factory and a farm, is located about 900 meters from Los Genoveses beach, an area of ​​high environmental value and one of the best preserved in Andalusia. In the resolution, the regional government has set two main conditions for the promoter: that it obtain authorization for the reuse of treated water and that the project be declared of public interest, procedures that the administrations will not hinder. The action has been rejected by numerous environmental associations and almost 250,000 people have signed against him on the Change.org platform.

The administrative procedure, dated January 12, paves the way for a project that was born in the summer of 2016. The Minister of the Environment, Carmen Crespo from Almería, has defended the initiative on several occasions, insisting that it is about “ rehabilitation” and that the action is legal. However, her position is very far from that of organizations such as Ecologists in Action or Greenpeace, who consider that this hotel means opening mass tourism to a protected area as fragile as this one.

The issue has generated more than one row in the Andalusian Parliament due to the opposition of the left. And although the Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla, and the Minister of the Presidency, Elías Bendodo, boast of a “green revolution” for Andalusia, the truth is that this new controversy in Cabo de Gata adds to other environmental controversies in this community, such as the proposal to transform almost 1,500 hectares in the area of ​​Doñana into irrigated farms that until now were illegal, the streamlining of procedures for the construction of hotel establishments that require changes in the classification of land in Marbella or the recovery of a gigantic project for an urbanization and golf course in Barbate.

The Junta de Andalucía defines the Unified Environmental Authorization as “Procedure by which it is determined, for the purposes of protecting the environment, the viability of the execution of certain actions and the conditions in which they must be carried out”. It is the last step of the regional administration to give the green light to the rehabilitation project of the Las Chiqueras farmhouse, rejected by environmental organizations since the proposal reached the administrations more than five years ago. Sources from the Andalusian administration assure that it is the “end point” of the environmental section of the initiative and that the urban section remains. That is where the Níjar City Council comes in, which must grant a building license, but it will also be the one that declares, or not, the public interest of the project, according to the new law to promote the sustainability of the Andalusian territory. The mayor of the municipality, Esperanza Pérez, has repeatedly stated that her hands are tied because the approval or not of the hotel “depends exclusively on the Junta de Andalucía”, stressing that the farm is located on “specially protected undeveloped land”. In the Board they believe that she does have decision-making capacity, but they understand that the mayor throws balls out to blame the regional government.

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Long paperwork process

During the first procedures, in 2016, the Níjar City Council did not object to the hotel, claiming that it is not its competence. The Junta de Andalucía —then with the PSOE in the Government— did. He opposed the construction of 13 new rooms and the expansion of the vehicle parking area, although he gave his approval to the rest of the project. Three years later, in November 2019, the company made the appropriate changes, eliminating the new parking lot and the rooms, which were relocated to existing buildings. The developer was forced to present a new environmental opinion, which received the allegations of Ecologists in Action, Greenpeace, the Friends of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park Conservation and Cultural Association, Equo, the Mediterranean environmental group and the Spanish Society of Ornithology (SEO-Birdlife). They were no use. In the summer of 2020, the Junta de Andalucía declared the project “viable”, generating a stir in Níjar.

Now, in its positive resolution, the Ministry of the Environment gives a period of five years for the start of the works and imposes a series of technical conditions on the action linked to the landscape integration of the accesses, the management of waste or the own infrastructure. It requires that new constructions or the rehabilitation of existing ones maintain “the essential exterior aesthetic features in tune with the traditional construction typology of the area”, with single-storey buildings, aesthetic buttresses or exterior woodwork. It also requires respect for existing vegetation or the prohibition of opening new paths or tracks in the environment, as well as minimizing emissions into the atmosphere and complying with legal specifications for noise and light pollution. Likewise, it establishes a series of requirements for the management of waste and to ensure that the water supply and sanitation of the infrastructure will not discharge wastewater onto the ground in the event of a breakdown.

The project is intended to be carried out on almost 27,000 square meters on land classified as a Common Regulation Zone north of Los Genoveses beach, within the natural park. The farmhouse was built at the beginning of the 20th century and one of its warehouses was rehabilitated a decade ago for the start-up of an eco-museum that should maintain its activity. The rest of the complex is made up of scattered buildings, which will be rehabilitated to adapt them to hotel use, which will have 30 rooms, a restaurant and swimming pools. The work includes the remodeling of the current parking area to accommodate 70 vehicles, having given permission to condition the surface, but without the possibility of paving or lighting. The project also includes 950 square meters of photovoltaic panels for electricity supply and a water purification and reuse system.

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