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Spain’s ‘Wild Coast’ under threat from new building frenzy

Published by The Telegraph Hannah Strange | 16/09/2018


“Begur is authentic” declares a sign welcoming visitors to this medieval coastal town. And indeed, nestled amid thick maritime pine forests rolling down to hidden coves, Begur is a world away from the over-developed resorts and high rise condominiums that blight better-known destinations of Spain’s Costa Brava.

Perched on one of last virtually pristine stretches along this almost 100-mile coastline, Begur and its surrounding inlets are drenched in the rugged nature that earned the region the name of the “Wild Coast”.

But, as property developments swing back into action following the end of the decade-long economic crisis, that nature is under threat. Along the Costa Brava, some 20 projects are now in the works, according to SOS Costa Brava, an umbrella organisation which launched this summer to bring together dozens of alarmed residents’ groups.

In Aiguafreda, a tiny cove in Begur, Anne McDonagh-Sigliano, a Scottish expat who has owned a second home here for 25 years, sighs as she look out over the lush green forest canopy rolling down to its crystalline waters. “All this that is virgin now, it is all going to be built up,” she laments to The Telegraph. “Everyone is up in arms, the people that have lived here, had houses here for 40 years, are just up in arms.”

Ms McDonagh-Sigliano is one of hundreds of local residents and home-owners supporting Save Aiguafreda, a group that has formed to resist the construction.

Now home to just a handful of houses and a restaurant, Aiguafreda is braced for a development of 260 residences and three hotels that will dwarf its current population. Originally agreed in the 1970s, the project had been paralysed for 15 years due to legal and financial disputes, followed by the economic crisis, but has now sprung back into life.

A further 24 luxury apartments are to be built on another slope overlooking Aiguafreda, where excavators have already broken ground.

Residents and environmental groups fear the environmental impact not only from the construction itself but from increased rubbish and residual waters being pumped into the sea, where the Ses Negres Marine Reserve lies. Parking and traffic is a major concern; already in summer the narrow lanes that wind down to Aiguafreda are lined by cars on both sides, Ms McDonagh-Sigliano says.

Lydia Chaparro, a spokesperson for Save Aiguafreda, said the population of the municipality of Begur swelled up to 10 times its usual 4000 during the summer months. Sa Riera, the next cove along from Aiguafreda, where 70 luxury homes are to be built, is already “completely overcrowded,” Ms Chaporro said. “There is not space for even one more house or one more car.”

The construction of access roads was also in the works, which would require further deforestation, she explained. “We are destroying the Costa Brava to make second homes,” Ms Chaporro warned.

In the case of the main Aiguafreda development, as well as many other Costa Brava projects, agreements had been made years ago under what were now “antiquated” environmental and development standards, she said, remarking “We are in 2018 now”.The mayor of Begur, Joan Loureiro, agreed that the Aiguafreda project posed a “serious problem.” But, he told The Telegraph, there was nothing authorities could do to stop the development as that would require paying out up to 75 million euros in compensation – money the town hall could “not even dream” of.He was hopeful, however, of negotiating an agreement on constructing less houses, with “less aggressiveness”, he said.

Mr Loureiro said the question of construction must be one of balance. Begur, and other areas of the Costa Brava, had small, characterful communities and beautiful but fragile landscapes which must be preserved, he said, but equally tourism was fundamental to the local economy.Greenpeace says it is a pattern being repeated around Spain. In a July report, it warned that 80 percent of coastal resources were degraded due to mass construction, with more than 36 percent of the country’s beach line now developed.“After decades of property development and infrastructures on the coast, the occupation of the first line of the coast has been massive,” said Paloma Nuche, head of Greenpeace’s Coast Campaign, which has called for stricter laws on such construction.

“We cannot sit back while the coast, the most valuable and rich strip of our territory, continues its unstoppable decline.”

Read the original article in The Telegraph.