The town hall has been told to remove 325 sunlounger sets. | archives

It was a number of years ago now. Residents in Playa de Muro were denouncing the over-occupation of part of the beach by sunlounger and parasol sets. There were more than there should have been, and the residents invoked the rights of the citizens in respect of the use of the free public domain that is all Spanish beaches.

The residents’ action came around a time when Playa de Muro was one setting for what had been an ongoing sunlounger war. Mornings would dawn and damage to sunloungers could be seen. They were being slashed overnight. Repairing them cost a pretty centimo or two. Nothing was ever proven, though the suspicion was that these acts of vandalism were due to differences between competing concessionaires for operating the summer sunloungers.

These concessions were and are pretty good business. A tendency to over-occupy made the business that much more profitable. It was once suggested that bidders would in fact make allowance for fines they could anticipate by putting out too many sunloungers. Even with the fines and the charges demanded by the town hall for the concession, six months (or however long) of sunloungers turned in handsome profits, so long as they hadn’t been eaten into by the cost of repair.

In another part of Playa de Muro’s beach (not the one the residents were worried about), it has been the case that it is virtually impassable because of the sunloungers. They are close to the water’s edge, and what space is left tends to be occupied by small children digging in the wet sand. Yes, you can of course walk in the sea, but there is meant to be a sort of pedestrian corridor that doesn’t demand this. It’s not like this in other parts, because the beach is either deeper or there are no sunloungers, and there are no sunloungers because there are no hotels at the back of the beach; this isn’t just the Es Comú rustic beach that is backed by dunes and forest, as there is a stretch which is in a solely residential area.

Over-occupation by sunlounger, the sunlounger war, the space for passage along the beach; I’m reminded by all of them because of Muro town hall’s spat with the Costas Authority. The town hall has been told to remove 325 sunlounger sets. It will be appealing this, arguing that tourism quality will be affected and fearing that the Blue Flag may be lost as a consequence. The mayor, Miquel Porquer, says that there is a feeling that the town hall (and his is not alone) is being persecuted by the Costas. It’s been going on for years.

Indeed it has. It was Playa de Muro where I first really gauged a sense of what might almost be said to be fear of the Costas and certainly a hostility towards the authority. There didn’t have to be anything specific. Just a mention of the Costas and there would be a reaction. But there were the specifics and therefore the demonstrations. The threatened demolition of cottages in Ses Casetes des Capellans was one cause; another had to do with the interpretation of “public domain” and the application of the Coasts Law as it affected hotels.

In late October 2010, a “platform” of the affected parties staged a protest. Quite a lot of people turned out. Most of them, though, were hotel employees. They wouldn’t have held the protest in November; there would have been hardly anyone to protest. The Costas threat was to some two million square metres of land that were set to be reclassified as public domain. This was a lot of land, much of it used by hotels. Ostensibly a platform of businesses, the town hall gave its support, which was unsurprising given that it had historically been the case that mayors were either hoteliers or worked for hotel chains.

This closeness of interest will be at play now because of the Costas demand that sunloungers are taken away. As noted above, the sunloungers are on stretches of beach backed by hotels. Good provision of sunloungers is important to the hotels as they are almost a hotel service for guests. This good provision is important to the town hall because of tourism quality but also because there is an income - a healthy one from the town hall fees for concessions.

But let’s bear in mind the residents’ complaints from the past about over-occupation, while there is also the stipulation about the distance from the water’s edge. Mayor Porquer says that there is “almost always” more than six metres. Sorry, but unless something has changed, that certainly wasn’t the case with one part of the beach.

The mayor adds that the Costas are contradicting themselves, as it was they who granted the concession four years ago. Is there a contradiction? It’s been my understanding that concessions and specifications for beach services are revised and renewed every four years. Then there’s the Blue Flag, and so reinforcement of my firm belief that the Blue Flag has moved too far away from its original purpose. Muro took the step twelve years ago of imposing fines for anyone caught peeing in the sea. The town hall wished to guarantee water quality even through a measure as unenforceable and irrelevant as the pee ban. But then water quality was what the Blue Flag was all about - fair enough - not provision of sunloungers.

I can understand the mayor referring to persecution, but while I have had my criticisms of the Costas - and not just because of their activities in Playa de Muro, which also include the terraces in Capellans - I’m not sure I do when it comes to the sunloungers. One can talk about tourism quality, but at the same time there are interests; hence, for example, why there was the sunlounger war.

The mayor says that the town hall has up to the first of July to appeal the Costas decision. This just so happens to be the date when the Costas responsibilities are due to be transferred to the Balearic government and therefore to the environment ministry. Would the ministry be inclined to look on the Muro case any more favourably? I suppose that might depend on which political party or parties are in power after the election, as right now you would think that the ministry would not.