Casa del Rey Moro Politics Rears its Ugly Head

Recently Ronda has been subject to numerous grandstanding exercises over the fate of the Casa del Rey Moro, arguably one of the best known buildings in the old town. Last month the owner in a moment of frustration at not getting approval to build a five star hotel hung a banner claiming that 200 jobs in Ronda have not been created due to planning consent issues, he was promptly arrested and his banner removed by the Policia Local, starting a vicious series of recriminations between the owner and the mayor of Ronda.

Almost all of the Ronda and Spanish press have reported the story, the owner of the palace has not been slack in getting his opinion out, whilst on the opposite side the mayor and senior PSOE councillors have called for the palace to be expropriated. Ignoring the politics for the moment, here are the facts of the story as known by Ronda Today.

The Facts of the Situation
Jochen Knie, a German expatriate who owns a five start hotel in Sevilla bought the Casa del Rey Moro in 1996, an agreement signed by the then mayor of Ronda, PSOE Juan Fraile, with the explicit intention (mentioned in the contract of sale) Knie would renovate the building and construct a five star hotel in the city. At the time, the town hall pledged to alter the municipal zoning plans so that the hotel could proceed.

Within the original contract of sale was a stipulation that Knie or his nominated company, Casa del Rey Moro S.L. would repair and open to the public the gardens of the palace and the mine which descends to the Guadalevín, the river that separates the two halves of Ronda. The garden and mine were assessed by archeology experts from the Universities of Sevilla and Málaga, and opened to the public in 1997.

The first consent for the hotel was rejected as containing too many changes for a culturally important building in 1998, and a second plan drawn up which has yet to be approved or rejected. Building consent in the Casco Antiguo, the old town, is notoriously difficult to obtain owing to the preciousness of the area and to a legal fact that the Ayuntamiento is not empowered to approve consents within the area, in fact consent must come from the Junta de Andalucía.

Fundamentally, the problem with building consent in the old town, the Padre Jesus district, most of the old part of Mercadillo, and the Barrio de San Francisco is that zoning plans must be approved by the Junta de Andalucía because of their historical and cultural importance, in fact the Ayuntamiento has no power to create the zoning plan, and no power to approve or deny applications for building consent. Essentially the Ayuntamiento is legally not competent in these areas, not from lack of experienced people, more because the Junta de Andalucía have a legal obligation under Spanish national law to protect areas of cultural importance and other cities such as Antequera, Marbella, Córdoba, Granada, Cadíz etc are in the same position.

Consequently the situation has dragged on for 14 years without a satisfactory solution. Furthermore, several key players in the drama have become fed up and legal action initiated from at least three of the parties against each other.

Jochen Knie has filed a notice for compensation against the Ayuntamiento de Ronda to the value of 6.4 million Euros for breach of contract, a lady who sold a property to Jochen Knie in return for having her home rebuilt has initiated legal action against the Casa del Rey Moro for restitution, and now the Ayuntamiento is starting proceedings to have the palace expropriated ostensibly due to damage caused from neglect by the owner.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Policia Local are considering charges against Jochen Knie for breach of the peace and hanging his banner without permission, whilst Jochen Knie has denounced the Policia Local, Rafael Lara, and Antonio Marín Lara through the Policia Nacional for wrongful arrest and other allegations after the public dispute that occurred on Saturday 27th March 2010.

Ronda Suffers the Consequences of the Dispute
Altogether the recent events are a terrible shame and bring Ronda into disrepute, made worse when sensationalist local newspapers allow themselves to be used by the various parties for political point scoring. Foreign visitors to Ronda who have been interviewed by Ronda Today report reading about the dispute in a prominent local English newspaper and despairing that the Casa del Rey Moro was in imminent danger of collapsing. In fact this is far from the truth as attested by architects and engineers who are familiar with the building.

In a recent statement by the mayor of Ronda to a journalist from El Pais, Antonio Marín Lara extended an olive branch to Jochen Knie describing him as a good business person and offering to reduce council fees for presenting his building consent application to just 5% of normal fees.

New Zoning for the Casa del Rey Moro

At the current time, it is still not possible for the hotel project to go ahead because the current zoning plan lists the Casa del Rey Moro is a cultural monument, though in fact the only parts of the property that have a high level of protection are the garden and mine, the palace itself is a relatively recent structure with the main building and towers being constructed in the early 20th century. The palace itself is listed as a category B protected building of Grade 1 and 2 which is not especially high and does allow for renovations, but currently does not allow for a hotel to be constructed.

The (hopefully) soon to be approved zoning plan for Ronda changes its designation to “turistico” which would allow the building of a hotel, of course abiding by the restrictions placed on all construction within a culturally and historically important area that requires the exterior of a building to be protected without insensitive changes. Quite simply this means in the case of the Casa del Rey Moro that all existing windows, doors, special architectural embellishments, the towers, the colour etc must remain the same after renovation.

Jochen Knie confirmed to Ronda Today that his architects are aware of the restrictions and would not be building a UFO as has been described by the mayor in recent press interviews, you can see for yourself what the architects envisage by watching the YouTube video alongside this paragraph.

What then is the future of the Casa del Rey Moro? Legal advisors tell Ronda Today that the mayor’s expropriation claim is unlikely to succeed because the building is not in a sufficiently degraded state for the courts to award expropriation, though they may require the owner to shore up certain parts of the building. Furthermore, several PSOE and PP activists in Ronda have expressed the opinion the mayor is simply playing politics by appearing to act in the interests of Rondeños, many of whom would prefer to see the palace restored as a museum for the benefit of the city.

Architects in Ronda have also expressed the opinion that the new zoning plan will soon be approved making it permissible for Jochen Knie to continue with his hotel project, albeit 14 years late, and barring delays could see construction start within the next 2-3 years. Knie’s compensation claim is progressing very slowly and likely won’t be settled for another 10 years or more, by which time a new mayor will most likely have to deal with the findings.

In addition, Knie has confirmed to Ronda Today that the dispute with the former owner of a property purchased by Knie is close to reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

It seems then that in fact there is no story to report, yet Knie and the mayor have both gone on the offensive over a situation that probably needn’t have occurred, politics as usual is the winner, whilst ordinary Rondeños sit back scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss is. Strategically, Knie’s actions can’t be considered any other way than as a publicity stunt to draw attention to his project, whist the Policia Local’s actions in entering the property and arresting Knie have been described by at least one local lawyer as unwise and possibly in contravention of Spanish and EU law.

Ronda Today hopes the issue of what to do with the Casa del Rey Moro reaches a speedy conclusion, because this certainly isn’t good for Ronda in the public eye, and has the potential to affect the efforts of the Office of Tourism as they compete with larger cities for a shrinking slice of the tourism Euro.

Bilingual Education in Ronda

Bilingual School in Ronda

Ronda does not have an international college for children of expatriate families, nor does the city have a geat number of foreign children needing to be educated, and most of those that are resident tend to be fully integrated in the Spanish education system.

But in Ronda we do have two bilingual schools, a primary school (CEIP Juan Carillo), and a high school (IES Dr Rodriguez Delgado), as well there is a second bilingual primary school in Setenil de las Bodegas, though this is within the Cadíz province whereas Ronda schools are of course within Málaga province.

The British Council and the Spanish Ministry of Education are working hand in hand to make bilingual education a reality throughout Spain. Unlike education in the UK or other parts of Europe, bilingual education in Spain requires teachers to conduct part of the curriculum in English, that means the entire lesson is either Spanish, or English.

Bilingual education in Spain is a relatively new development, and in Ronda especially so with both schools having only run their programs for a very short time; one year for the primary school, and three years for the high school. When we think of a bilingual school, it is easy to assume that all classes must be taught in both of the chosen languages fairly equally, but in Spain that is not the case owing to a shortage of qualified bilingual teaching staff.

Bilingual education in Spain isn’t intended to make it easy for foreign students to get a Spanish education, instead the system is intended to allow Spanish students to learn English at an enhanced level throughout their school years, the goal being to produce a generation of Spaniards able to compete in the international stage where English is acknowledged as the lingua franca.

However, bilingual education in Ronda is good news for foreign families because both of the bilingual schools welcome English speaking children if places are available, and if they had their way they would increase the number of foreign students to give Spanish students exposure to the English language in the playground as well as the classroom.

Non-Spanish parents need to understand how the bilingual system works, after all placing your child in a Spanish only school with their friends may still be their best option. The bilingual schools are not able to offer 50/50 education, in many classes they’d be lucky to achieve much more than minimal English.

Starting next year 2010/2011, the primary school hopes to offer 25% to 30% of all education in English; several teachers with good English training are helping to coordinate the curriculum, whilst other teachers undertake English night courses at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas.

At the high school, several classes are already running at 30% English with the joke being at 30% it isn’t possible for students and teachers to restrict their English to just the first and last few minutes of the class. In fact Ronda Today has met several of the teachers and can confirm that most are delighted to be teaching in English as well as their native Spanish, and that students are responding well to classes taught entirely in English.

Both schools in Ronda operate within predefined zones that make it difficult for students from outside the school zone to enrol, so it is important to speak with the school director before assuming your child will be eligible.

Costalero Suffers Fatal Heart Attack During Setenil Easter Procession

During last nights Easter Procession in Setenil de las Bodegas, one of the Costalero’s suffered a heart attack and was immediately taken to the local health center but passed away whilst being cared for. He was Francisco Ruiz, a 44 year old resident of Setenil.

Witnesses described seeing Ruiz stumble out from under the Virgen de los Dolores paso at 23:30, and then collapsing in the street. The procession halted to allow friends to rush Ruiz to the local medical centre where doctors had been informed to expect him, by which time he required urgent cardio resuscitation.

Today the village of Setenil is in shock, with Brotherhood foreman Jesus María Robles paying respect to Ruiz who had been a consistent bearer for 20 years. Ruiz’s funeral will take place at 7pm in Setenil’s cemetery this afternoon and the entire village is expected to attend to pay their last respects.

Carrying the pasos is a very demanding task, some can weigh several tonnes, but it is considered a great honour to be selected. Francisco Ruiz was well known in the village, and an active member of the Brotherhood of Santa Vera Cruz. Ronda Today offers our condolences to his family during this difficult time.

Málaga Provincial Environment Councillor Slams Water Quality in the Serranía

Deputy Environment Councillor for the Province of Málaga, Miguel Esteban Martin, has presented a report to the 22 municipalities of the Serranía de Ronda slamming the quality of ground water and lack of waste water treatment plants in the strongest attack yet on local government in the Serranía.

Pollution, low quality of drinking water, and lack of adequate waste water treatment have been identified as causes for concern that require urgent attention, with 17 of the 22 municipalities in breach of EU water health regulations.

Only four town halls in the Serranía have taken steps to improve the quality of water, they being Ronda, El Burgo, Parauta, and Gaucín, who each have a functioning waste water treatment plant, though none have facilities for recycling water, all of which currently enters the rivers and waterways of the Serranía.

The provincial report indicates that 84% of rivers and streams in the Serranía are technically in breach of rules established by the Water Framework Directive (WFD) of the EU, with the worst rivers being the Genal and Guardiaro. The Guardiaro in particular has very high levels of fecal streptococci, coliform, ammonia, and nitrogen released into the river by neighbouring pig farms.

On a positive note, the report highlights that groundwater in the Serranía is generally in good health, although the hardness of the water isn’t adequately softened before entering the drinking water supply. The provincial report is also critical of a large golfing development planned for Ronda which is describes as not viable from the standpoint of environmental sustainability and management of water resources.

In another note, the report is critical of Ronda for having the highest number of animal deaths from poisoned bait in all of Andalucía, with 30 cases reported between 2001 and 2007.

The report is generally positive of solid waste recycling efforts, with collection of glass, plastics, and papers up on previous years. In addition, the average amount of waste generated by each individual in the district is still considered the lowest in the province at 1.66kg per day per person.

Marbella Attempts to Get AVE Before Ronda

The Ayuntamiento of Ronda is up in arms over a proposal from Marbella to do everything in their power to ensure the Spanish AVE high speed train reaches Marbella before work can be started for the AVE passing through Ronda.

Currently there is no railway line servicing Marbella although many years ago a local branch line did connect the city with Fuengirola and Malaga. Plans by the province of Malaga and national government call for an AVE connection to reach Marbella from Malaga, but this hasn’t been finalised.

In contrast, Ronda is the main hub on the line from Antequera to Algeciras, Spain’s busiest port, in addition Ronda is Andalucía’s third most visited tourist destination.

Ronda’s mayor Antonio Marín Lara is furious that Marbella would attempt to derail Ronda’s efforts to obtain the AVE and has demanded the Partido Popular (PP) led council in Marbella give up their motion and stop playing politics with an issue that is central to the long term economic life blood of inland Andalucía.

At the same time, Marín Lara and PSOE head Francisco Cañestro have stated their intention to send a letter to every political party in Marbella explaining why the AVE must go ahead for Ronda, and have demanded Ronda’s PP back Ronda by denouncing the Marbella initiative.

The existing line to Algeciras is currently closed for tunnel upgrades and track replacement in anticipation of upgrades to the line to make it compatible with the AVE high speed trains, although this will also necessitate construction of new segments from Bobadilla to Setenil before joining the existing line at La Indiana where Ronda’s AVE terminal is expected to be built.

Ronda – Tourist Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages. Telephone 0034 681 14 70 24

This site uses cookies. Find out more about this site’s cookies.