7.5 square metres per person; now 15 square metres. | Jaume Morey

In 1989, the Balearic parliament approved the general criteria for the plan for the management of tourism offer. Known as POOT, this plan sought to establish quotas in coastal tourist municipalities for accommodation and other tourist services. A means of guiding these quotas was space on beaches, regulation for which had existed prior to the establishment of regional government in 1983 but which was updated by POOT. From 1989, therefore, it was determined that each beachgoer should be able to enjoy 7.5 square metres as opposed to the previous five.

This particular POOT criterion was adopted by only ten municipalities in Mallorca - Alcudia, Andratx, Arta, Calvia, Muro, Palma, Pollensa, Ses Salines, Soller and Son Servera. It was adopted, but its application wasn't straightforward. The town halls argued, for example, that not all residents and tourists went to beaches at the same time, while there was some "interpretation" as to what constituted beach and therefore the total area.

The current director for territory at the Council of Mallorca, Miquel Vadell, explains that this criterion had a consequence that hadn't been anticipated. Aware that beaches did fill up, hotels opted for a revised concept - hotel resorts. These weren't all-inclusive (not originally in many cases), but they had added facilities designed to keep holidaymakers inside the hotel complexes - larger pools with slides and features, for example.

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POOT was an attempt at limiting tourist numbers, but basing this on beach space became increasingly illogical. Vadell gives the example of Playa de Muro, where development came later than many other tourist resorts and also where much of the development was to be of the hotel resort type.

"What sense would it make now to limit the establishments in Muro based on the carrying capacity of their beaches when the rest of Mallorca goes to swim there?" Despite the hotel resorts, Playa de Muro is now "saturated" by people and by cars in summer to an extent that it wasn't, say, twenty years ago.

This said, the replacement for POOT, the PIAT plan for intervention in tourism areas does have a beach space component - double what it was. "We thought that it was necessary to limit parking, but on the basis that cars going to beaches will be full. The ratio is therefore designed to guarantee a parking space for every four people. There will be those who say that this facilitates the creation of new car parks, but the reality is that the cars are there and they are badly parked. We believe that this is better than doing nothing and continuing to have chaos."

PIAT, Vadell adds, redesigns "dissuasive standards" and addresses saturation and overexploitation. Whether it truly does, though, is another matter.