British expats in Spain say no to motorway through park

PD*28638968Three cheers for the Brits blocking greedy amoral Spanish developers, lawyers, notaries, and politicians intent on destroying the interior of the region, since they´ve already completely fucked up the coast with mafia money help. It´s fucking sad for the Andalusian people it has to be other Europeans that love the place more than the sheer filth who can´t degrade the natural resources and scenery fast enough. I love Juan Manuel Lopez, provincial head of the environmental ministry, saying, ¨it´s progress and it´s needed.¨ Yeah, the bribes and kickbacks are needed by you to pay for your second chalet in Portugal for your mistress, you punk ass thieving bitch.

With its circling storks and whitewashed medieval villages nestling among groves of sweet chestnut and cork trees, it is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled corners of inland Spain.

But now residents of the Sierra de Arcena park, 50 miles from Seville, are launching a furious defence of their tranquil surroundings from what they say is an onslaught by the Spanish government.

Madrid has unveiled plans for a network of new roads across the park, including two motorways and a high speed dual carriageway, and expatriates from illustrious British families who have made the area their home are among campaigners who are protesting against them.

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They say that the roads will upset the delicate equilibrium achieved between man and nature over hundreds of years, and thereby change the Sierra for ever.

“These wooded hills are the lungs of Andalusia, and what is being proposed will not bring a single benefit to the area,” said Lady Victoria Leatham, 61, whose family has a house near the centre of the park. “I’m not upset because it crosses my land – that’s a minor inconvenience and no great shakes.

“What enrages me is the tragedy of destroying the peace and quiet of an area that is quite beautiful and special for so many reasons.”

The 75,000 acre area, inland from the crowded concrete of the Costa del Sol, has been designated a biosphere reserve by Unesco – the United Nations cultural body – and its wooded and hilly countryside is almost unchanged since Roman times.

Under the first stage of the government’s plan, an existing east-west road that currently snakes slowly through the park will be completely upgraded to a high-speed dual carriageway or Via Rapida. This would create a faster road link between Seville, the Andalusian capital to the southeast, and Rosal de La Frontier on the park’s northern boundary – from where traffic can cross into Portugal and speed on its way towards Lisbon.

But the project has drawn vehement opposition. Lady Leatham, the retired chatelaine who restored the gardens at her family’s ancestral home, the Elizabethan period Burleigh House in Lincolnshire, built a property outside the village of Los Marines, in the centre of the park, 15 years ago which she and her family use as a holiday home.

The large country house overlooks an unspoilt valley rich in the flora and fauna that are unique to this part of Spain.

Since learning that the proposed Via Rapida will slice off a corner of her property, she has vowed to be a thorn in the side of the authorities.

“I’m all for civil disobedience,” Lady Leatham told The Sunday Telegraph. “I’ll be marching against this absurdity until they realise the huge mistake they are making.”

A banner already hangs at the impressive wrought iron gates of her property emblazoned with the Spanish slogan, “Via Rapida No” – a phrase which has come to represent a protest movement that is gaining ever greater momentum.

Critics of the project, part of a nationwide infrastructure upgrade aimed at better connecting Spanish cities and improving links with Portugal, want the new road to be rerouted around the park.

The upgrading of the only road running east to west across the hilly terrain will involve bypassing villages, cutting through hillsides, and building up viaducts to construct a route devoid of bends where traffic can move at a speed of 100 km (62 miles) per hour.

If the (euro) 500 million project goes ahead as planned, some 10,000 trees will have to be uprooted for the highway, which will be flanked on each side by service roads and fences designed to prevent animals crossing. Instead wild animals will be encouraged to use aluminium tunnels beneath the highways.

A new motorway will later disect the park north to south, while another stretch of motorway will link the two new roads diagonally in the east.

Manuel Guerra, 40, the socialist mayor of Aracena, which with a population of 8,200 people is the largest town within the park, believes the protests are being made through ignorance.

“The British people who live here are stirring things up,” he said. “They talked among themselves and decided to take their own action against the proposal without really understanding the issues. The fact is there is a historic demand to better the routes connecting the area with the principal cities of Seville and Huelva, and to improve links to the coast.”

Juan Manuel Lopez, provincial head of the environment ministry, told hostile inhabitants of the town of Cortegana, where the proposed Via Rapida will pass by the walls of the 13th century castle: “What is proposed is part of a nationwide plan to improve roads across all of Spain, to link up its cities and improve communications. It’s progress and it’s needed.”

But Rafael Hernandez Mancha, the former director the Park Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, said: “It’s madness. It means the park will be divided into six separated segments and that people will be forced to take long detours in order to reach their own land.”

It will also prove, he believes, a tragedy for the animal population of the sierra, especially the endangered Iberian lynx, of which there are less than 200 adults left in the wild.

“The park is a corridor between two of the last remaining colonies of lynx and nothing is being done to protect it,” he said.

It was under his leadership in 2002 that the area, already designated a natural park, was recognised by Unesco as a world Biosphere Reserve – a label that was hard won but ultimately awards little protection.

“People here have been very patient, accepting difficult restrictions imposed on them by park authorities that were necessary to preserve the park’s unique nature,” Mr Mancha said. “The irony is that it will be lost with a plan like this.”

Planning restrictions within the confines of the park are among the most stringent in Spain with permission needed even to prune one of the chestnut trees that mantle the hillsides or to harvest the cork trees that take 40 years to reach maturity.

That has made the area attractive to those looking for rural retreats and has led to a booming industry in sustainable tourism, with several centres within the park offering rambling and horse-riding holidays and even yoga retreats.

Sam Chesterton, 62, a relative of the late author G K Chesterton, was one of the first Britons to realise the potential of the region when he moved here with his wife Jeannie in 1983.

They built a grand country house to their own eclectic design, furnished with pieces passed down from their families, and opened their doors to guests looking for a luxury but nature-filled getaway.

For the last two decades they have run residential gourmet cooking classes using local produce including mushrooms foraged from forests in the rolling hills that surround their property, fruits from the orchards and the region’s famous jamon – ham from the black skinned pigs that root around beneath the chestnut trees.

“We don’t want to be seen as ‘nimbies’,” Mr Chesterton said, referring to the “not in my back yard” label often given to those who oppose planning projects near their homes. “But the whole economy of this area is threatened with this ridiculous plan.

“Who will want to come to enjoy the nature of a place when the birdsong is drowned out by the roar of traffic?” img_2499

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