Cuevas townhall tries to take control of Desert Springs

Exciting news from Cuevas del Almanzora, whose Mayor has just confirmed that he is intending to launch a legal battle to take control of the La Algarrobina estate, on which local golf resort Desert Springs was built, after local reporters uncovered evidence that Desert Springs was mis sold the land. Excellent reporting from local newspaper Actualidad Almanzora.

Basically, and remember that this is an extremely complex problem, the situation is as thus:

In red: Aprox land re-classified by Desert Springs Gold Resort. Land to the left of the golf course is undeveloped, but with planning permission. The yellow circle indicates the location of Cortijo de La Algarrobinasurrounding lands (81 ha) were purchased by Cuevas del Almanzora townhall in 1942. Click for a larger view. Photo from the Actualidad Almanzora newspaper.

– In 1938, Cuevas del Almanzora townhall compulsory purchased a swath of land, of around 25 ha2 (250,000 m2) and gave it to the Ministry of War to use as an airbase. The land was never used, as it had bad communications, despite the fact that it was the Ministry of War who requested the use of the land. It cost Cuevas townhall 6,000 pesetas* to buy the land.

– In 1942, the Ministry of War ordered Cuevas townhall to extend the land around the proposed airbase, in order to build a large military base. A further 812,000m2 (about 82 ha2) of land was purchased, at a cost of 25,000 pesetas*, from Don  Francisco Soler y Soler, who owned the land. The land, owned entirely by one family, was known as Cortijo de La Algarrobina, and was purchased in it’s entirity and handed over to the new Franco regime. In total, this was a parcel of land of around 106 ha2. The escritura of the land has now, it seems, re-appeared, “in mysterious circumstances”. Both escrituas are valid, signed by the local Notary, stamped by the townhall and signed by the then-mayor, D. Marquez Solar. Another order, from the Ministry of War in Granada, directed to the townhall, ordering “the extension of the lands ceded to this Ministry, in order to construct a Proper Airport together with Barracks, Storehouses, Military Installations and the necessary Apparatus of an AirBase” also appears.

-However, the Ministry of War eventually decided that due to bad infrasturcture, it was better to extend the Cartagena base (what is now San Jose – Murcia airport) and never used the land purchased and granted by Cuevas. This means that the land technically returned to the ownership of Cuevas del Almanzora townhall. Everybody forgot about it.

-In 1990, an English company called “Desert Springs” purchased a plot of land in the same area from a local family in Palomares (the name of the family, for legal reasons, does not appear in the newspaper reports, but I assume -from local reports- that it is the descendents of Soler y Soler). A further plot of land was purchased by the same company from the same family in 1994. The total amount of land purchased was 256,000 m2, almost the same size and shape plot of land as purchased by the townhall by 1942, in the same plot of land. There are no indications that the Desert Springs company knew that the land had already been sold 60 years before.

-IN 1997, evidence of the townhall purchase was presented to the townhall. Then-mayor, Antonio Llaguera (PSOE), disclaimed all knowledge of this, and refused to open an investigation. There the matter lay. D. Antonio was later implicated in several urban construction scandals in the province. His most famous quote, as it appeared on Spanish TV, when asked by a Judge about the construction of a huge (and illegal) urbanisation on the outskirts of his town: “I don’t often leave town that way”.

-Last month, local newspaper Actualidad Almanzora published extracts of the previous escrituras. This month, they published an updated report, together with an interview with the current mayor of Cuevas, D. Jesús Caicedo (PP), who has said he has opened a judicial investigation into the matter, and said: “if this is proven that the lands belong to Cuevas, we [the townhall] will launch a legal attempt to reclaim the land which is ours“. He continued to say that “he did not know why the matter had not been investigated before”, admitted that “now may not be the moment to investigate, but the law must be obeyed” and “I am not a lawyer, I do not know how this matter can be resolved”.

-A “quick and dirty” valuation of the land by Actualidad Almanzora values the land as at least 318 million euros, assuming it is urban [which it is as Desert Springs had it reclassified].

For more, see this weeks (and previous) reports in Actualidad Almanzora.

*During the Civil War, the “peseta” changed value quite quickly and depending on whether they were Republican or Popular. By 1938, 1,000 Republican pesetas would almost buy you a dozen eggs, so we can assume these were the new Popular (Franco) pesetas. In which case, according to my calculator, 6,000 pesetas in 1938 was worth €158.000 in 2006. And 25,000 pesetas in 1942 was worth €345,000. In total, the land cost Cuevas the equivalent of half a million euros; it’s now worth 320 million, at current urban prices. Of course, in 2006, it would have been worth €693,333,333, as urban land was worth more back then. Heh ho.

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