Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It’s now almost ten years since I took up residence in Pontevedra. During all this time there’ve been public works projects complicating movement in several parts of the city. In addition, of course, there’s been the construction of numerous blocks of new flats. Indeed, on the northern edge of the city, the ground is being cleared and foundations laid for even more of these. This is despite the fact that, with the property bubble well and truly burst, occupancy of most of the new blocks is very low. Possibly even nil in some cases. The questions that spring to my mind are Why? And How? By which I mean who financed all this? The question is placed in stark relief by a short trip down into North Portugal, specifically into Pontevedra’s twin town there, Barcelos. Which boasts very few of the new buildings, roads and roundabouts that make parts of Pontevedra unrecognisable from only ten years ago. So, how come Spain got the bunce for all this and Portugal didn’t? Is it just a question of hot money flowing into Spain and being put to profitable use on the back of inappropriate interest rates? Or did Spain grab a disproportionate percentage of EU grants and subsidies? Encouraging banks and all those with sticky fingers to promote a construction boom that, despite reports of its death, seems to be continuing here in Pontevedra. All theories and comments welcome. Whatever the aetiology of it all, there’s no doubting that Pontevedra looks an even better place than it did ten years. Provided we discount the aesthetic value of all the old two-storey houses flattened to allow the construction of yet more anodyne flat blocks. Certainly you’d find it hard to find a single road either in or near the city which hasn’t been ‘improved’ in recent years. If only by the addition of 15cm speed bumps and the reduction of the speed limit to 40 or even 30kph.

Another question I have is – Are France and Britain (unlike Spain) really not paying for hostages to be released by Al Qaeda? If not, we can surely expect a lot more kidnapping of Spanish citizens.

Talking of what the Spanish government does with its citizens’ money . . . As I understand it, any young person in Spain who earns below 22,000 euros a year is entitled to 200 euros per month rent subsidy. In Spain ‘young’ usually encompasses all those below 35. But I assume this isn’t merely thrown at anyone below this age who might or might not be living with his/her parents but only at those who can prove they’re actually renting. And that they earn below 22,000 a year. This question has arisen because it’s been announced today that the scheme has been suspended as the payments have been going “in error” to young people earning more than 22,000 a year. I’m sure it’ll all be sorted out soon. Meanwhile, tough on those who really need it.

And still on the issue of revenue creation . . . One or two readers may recall I was fined a couple of years ago for doing more than 50 on the four-lane highway that comes into the north of Santiago. I noticed yesterday that there’s still only one (easily miss-able) sign and that the limit (surprise, surprise!) has been reduced to 40. As the man said the other day, “low hanging fruit”.

We’ve had terrific weather here in recent weeks but his morning dawned very cloudy. I read in the local paper that the skies would be clear by midday. Which seemed unlikely when I looked at them at 11.45. But then I recalled that ‘midday’ in Spain is when you have you main meal. So I wasn’t too surprised that things were a lot better by 3pm.

Finally . . . I touched recently on the summer spat between Spain and Morocco over the Spanish colony (sorry, “enclave”) of Melilla in north Africa. Click here for a better understanding of the backcloth to this.

Finally, finally . . . A plug for my elder daughter’s new novel., which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” – Ángel Valdés has it all: women, peace – and absolute power. But when an overheard remark ignites his jealousy of a long-dead comrade, Ángel finds himself gambling everything to become the undisputed hero of his country. My daughter adds . . . "I'll be publishing a chapter of the novel here every week while I submit it to various UK and US agents. Please feel free to leave constructive comments!" So, go on.


jorge said...

Hello Colin,

Thank you for posting your daughter's novel. The story takes off like a bullit from the get-go. This is my type of novel. I'm lookimg forward to the next chapter; the characters remind me of the "canallas" who have governed my country for the last 11decades.


SF Bay Area

Ferrolano said...

Unfortunately Colin, cities do need to grow and a number of the older Spanish ones have reached their natural boundries, so the only way is up. That means demolishing the older 2 story buildings and replacing them with new high rise blocks. Alternative 1, take over adjoining towns and greate the mega cities, if that is what you like and is the environment in which you want to live. Alternative 2, cut out the nice to have policies and live within your means. You don’t then need to grow or expand. Sure, local taxes will increase, with cost of living, but the benefit is for the taxpayer only.

MemorialHall said...

Most people don't seem to think that there was any construction bubble. In my town in the Costa Brava they are continuing to clear forested areas and build new lots. My neighboor is lobbying hard to have her agricultural land in a picturesque tiny old village approved for urbanization, thinking that it will make her very, very rich. Both my parents are trying to sell their houses, but refuse to lower their prices from their 2007 levels. They are bitter and their lives are basically on hold until they sell them, but they act as if the bubble burst is just an abnormal slowdown and eventually things will return to normal.

Colin said...

@ Jorge.

Many thanks for this. My duaghter was thrilled by your kind comments. BTW - The novel is really set in Cuba.

@ Memorial Hall.

Yes, all very Spanish. As Charles Butler of IBEX Salad would probably agree. All connected with the perceptions of property I cited the other day. An imperfect market, I guess.

Of course, it all makes more sense if one lives in an area favoured by Norther European tourists and snow-tops. But Pontevedra city???

Renovation in Galicia said...

Around Lugo they are building new super roads as though there is no tomorrow, the roads that have been completed are virtually empty, they give a felling as though something is expected to happen, but what? No one seems to know, still I guess it creates employment. The only new building that does make any sense is the new bridge which will span the Mino and will preserve the Roman bridge.In our village the Mayor has been accused of wasting a large amount of money on cosmetics of the village,this entailed the painting of white lines everywhere, making the village three lanes, one lane to be used to park according to dates only one side of the road and a one way system that the local largely ignore.This was all done in time for a visit from Rajoy leader of the PP.

Colin said...

Some would say, I guess, that the mayor had an interest in spending as much money as possible. You should see the village of the president of the Pontevedra provincial government - Barrantes. More traffic lights than Manhattan.