NEWS ROUNDUP DECEMBER

Mortgages plummet as Euribor hits record low
INTEREST rates in the Eurozone fell for the ninth consecutive time last month, with the Euribor sitting at an historical low of 1.231 per cent.

This means the average variable-rate mortgage will have come down by 240 euros a month.

A mortgage of 150,000 euros over 25 years is said to be the average profile of a home loan in Spain, to which this figure will apply.

Variable-rate mortgages in general will fall by 160 euros a month per 100,000 borrowed.

In fact, the Euribor is now a whopping three per cent lower than the rate for November last year, when it stood at 4.35 per cent.

Last July, the interest rate for the Eurozone – which affects loan interest in all member states, including Spain – reached a record high at 5.393 per cent.

Its lowest-ever rate was this year in March, when the Euribor fell to 1.909 per cent.

Economists say interest rates will not now go up until 2011.

The European Central Bank (BCE) says it will start to gradually increase rates in the second half of 2010, although its chairman, Jean-Claude Trichet, says it is too early yet to say Spain is out of the recession.

But in spite of uncertainty and lack of confidence in the financial markets across the continent, economists from the BCE say they are not concerned that mass inflation will follow.

Investors, who are due to meet with the board of governors of the BCE this week – as they do every month – are not expecting any surprises and are confident that Trichet will sent out a message for them to stay calm.

Council tax to come down in 2010
COUNCIL tax is set to come down this year all over the province of Castellón.

Some towns have opted to freeze rates rather than reducing them, but a number of discounts are available to help hard-pressed home-owners cope with the recession.

Costa Azahar councils initially considered increasing IBI, or asset tax, rates in 2010 to claw back the vital income it has lost from the construction industry crash.

But given that in some households, all members – both parents and the children – are unemployed due to the financial crisis, local authorities have taken steps to make it easier for them to pay their annual rates.

In Vila-real, rates will come down and property developers will get a 40 per cent reduction, with those who live in government subsidised homes – VPO properties, are to get 50 off.

Burriana intends to keep its rates the same, but will offer discounts to householders who are unemployed. In order to offset the loss of public funds, the council has announced moves to apply higher taxes to mobile telephone companies and to banks with cashpoints on the pavements.

Segorbe council has proven to be the most generous, offering reductions of up to 100 per cent for certain households in need.

Discounts will be offered for those on low incomes, on the dole, or with large families – usually defined as three or more children.

Segorbe local authorities also hope to be able to offer tax deductions of up to 100 per cent on children's nursery school fees and after-school clubs, their food, the purchase of nappies and baby milk, and rent payable on a first residence.

Additionally, in a bid to create more jobs, the council of Segorbe intends to reduce IBI as well as economic activity tax, and the cost of operating licences, for all companies who offer more than five new jobs in the new year.

La Vall d'Uixò council has come under fire from the opposition, since the reduction proposed is minimal and 'does not compensate for' the increases in land values in 2008, which caused IBI to rise.

In fact, in October, around 500 people staged a protest march to demand that their rates be reduced.

Low-income and large-family discounts are being offered by the councils of Benicàssim, L'Alcora, Almassora and Vinaròs, all of which have slightly reduced their IBI rates.

Protesters call for Gandia-Dénia train line and 'no more excuses'
A PROTEST march clamouring for the Gandia-Dénia train to be reinstalled was held in Oliva's Parc de l'Estació at noon on Saturday.

Amongst other activities, the crowd built a huge mosaic bearing their slogan for the demonstration, Units pel tren a 2010.

The act ended with a manifesto read by Francisco Brines, a famous poet born in Oliva in 1932.

In addition to members of the councils of Gandia and Oliva, numerous other authorities from towns in La Safor, together with the Oliva U3A, were present.

Mayor of Oliva Salvador Fuster, and Dénia's mayoress Ana Kringe, attended the march, although Gandia's mayor José Orengo came under fire for not joining in.

“We do not want any more excuses,” stated a spokesperson for one of the local associations that had called the protest.

The 30-kilometre stretch between Gandia and Dénia is the only break in what would otherwise be a continual rail link from the cities, and airports, of Alicante and Valencia.

It reinstatement, more than 35 years after it was dismantled, would mean residents in Oliva and surrounding areas could commute to either Valencia or Alicante for work, thus improving the local economy and potentially giving the property market a boost.

El Fondo wetland to be turned into walker's paradise
A WETLAND of outstanding natural beauty in the Vall d'Uixò is being given a clean-up to make it suitable for walkers.

The El Fondo nature reserve is being landscaped at a cost of 92,000 euros, a project that involves weeding, cleaning out the lagoon and building a dyke to regulate the ebb and flow of the water.

Trees, aquatic plants and bushes native to the area have also been planted.

Children in their final year at the Recaredo Centelles primary school were drafted in to help with the work.

Councillor for the environment in La Vall d'Uixò, Óscar Clavell, reveals that a wooden walkway has been built and the lagoon fenced off to avoid accidents.

Now, local authorities will set up educational material such as information boards, so that visitors can get the best out of this stunningly attractive stretch of countryside.

Castellón kids start drinking at age 12
THE average age for drinking alcohol for the first time is just 12 years old, reveals Castellón city council.

A study has revealed that kids start drinking between the ages of 12 and 16, and 85 per cent do so with their friends.

This said, 10.5 per cent of 14- to 30-year-olds do not drink when they go out, a much higher figure than the council anticipated when it carried out its research.

And only eight per cent of young people interviewed consider themselves habitual drinkers, with nearly 57 per cent saying they only consume alcohol on special occasions or if they go to parties.

In terms of disposable income spent on alcohol by teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings in Castellón, this accounts for around 21 per cent and comes well behind clothes, eating out, transport and mobile telephone credit.

Local authorities are setting up various campaigns to warn youngsters of the dangers of alcohol, under the slogan, 'if you overdo it, you'll lose it'.

The council-run organisation Controla Club, which aims to promote sensible drinking, says it has 780 members.

Controla Club has been working on encouraging moderation in alcohol consumption since 1999.

Grants for pensioners and first-time buyers
FIRST-TIME buyers in Castellón may be eligible for a 400-euro bonus to help them find their feet on the property ladder.

Mayor Alberto Fabra also reveals that retired people or those in receipt of any other state pension and on a low income could be entitled for a one-off 250-euro grant to help ease the pressure of the recession.

Those who buy a new home to use as a first and only residence – even if they are not first-time buyers – may qualify for a grant of 300 euros towards its maintenance.

Under-35s buying their first property will receive 400 euros.

Four-million-year-old badger found in Almenara
EUROPE'S oldest badger fossil has been found on an archaeological dig in Almenara (Castellón).

The unique finding was uncovered at the Casablanca 4 site, and is thought to date back to the Middle Pliocene period, which was between two and 13 million years ago.

The fossil in question is believed to be around four million years old.

Previous studies of the Casablanca digs have revealed remains of up to 150 different species, including lynx and deer.

Experts believe the flora and fauna in what is now the province of Castellón would have been similar to that currently found in the African savannah.

Historian Andrés Santos, who has been studying the fossil, says the discovery has enabled him and his colleagues to publish articles in some of the world's most-read palaeontology magazines.

“The province of Castellón is now on the front cover of all the specialist journals,” Santos reveals. 

El Fondo wetland to be turned into walker's paradise
A WETLAND of outstanding natural beauty in the Vall d'Uixò is being given a clean-up to make it suitable for walkers.

The El Fondo nature reserve is being landscaped at a cost of 92,000 euros, a project that involves weeding, cleaning out the lagoon and building a dyke to regulate the ebb and flow of the water.

Trees, aquatic plants and bushes native to the area have also been planted.

Children in their final year at the Recaredo Centelles primary school were drafted in to help with the work.

Councillor for the environment in La Vall d'Uixò, Óscar Clavell, reveals that a wooden walkway has been built and the lagoon fenced off to avoid accidents.

Now, local authorities will set up educational material such as information boards, so that visitors can get the best out of this stunningly attractive stretch of countryside.

Castellón kids start drinking at age 12
THE average age for drinking alcohol for the first time is just 12 years old, reveals Castellón city council.

A study has revealed that kids start drinking between the ages of 12 and 16, and 85 per cent do so with their friends.

This said, 10.5 per cent of 14- to 30-year-olds do not drink when they go out, a much higher figure than the council anticipated when it carried out its research.

And only eight per cent of young people interviewed consider themselves habitual drinkers, with nearly 57 per cent saying they only consume alcohol on special occasions or if they go to parties.

In terms of disposable income spent on alcohol by teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings in Castellón, this accounts for around 21 per cent and comes well behind clothes, eating out, transport and mobile telephone credit.

Local authorities are setting up various campaigns to warn youngsters of the dangers of alcohol, under the slogan, 'if you overdo it, you'll lose it'.

The council-run organisation Controla Club, which aims to promote sensible drinking, says it has 780 members.

Controla Club has been working on encouraging moderation in alcohol consumption since 1999.

Grants for pensioners and first-time buyers
FIRST-TIME buyers in Castellón may be eligible for a 400-euro bonus to help them find their feet on the property ladder.

Mayor Alberto Fabra also reveals that retired people or those in receipt of any other state pension and on a low income could be entitled for a one-off 250-euro grant to help ease the pressure of the recession.

Those who buy a new home to use as a first and only residence – even if they are not first-time buyers – may qualify for a grant of 300 euros towards its maintenance.

Under-35s buying their first property will receive 400 euros.

Four-million-year-old badger found in Almenara
EUROPE'S oldest badger fossil has been found on an archaeological dig in Almenara (Castellón).

The unique finding was uncovered at the Casablanca 4 site, and is thought to date back to the Middle Pliocene period, which was between two and 13 million years ago.

The fossil in question is believed to be around four million years old.

Previous studies of the Casablanca digs have revealed remains of up to 150 different species, including lynx and deer.

Experts believe the flora and fauna in what is now the province of Castellón would have been similar to that currently found in the African savannah.

Historian Andrés Santos, who has been studying the fossil, says the discovery has enabled him and his colleagues to publish articles in some of the world's most-read palaeontology magazines.

“The province of Castellón is now on the front cover of all the specialist journals,” Santos reveals.

 Swine 'flu has hit epidemic proportions
SWINE 'flu has reached epidemic proportions in Spain, with the Comunidad Valenciana being one of the worst-hit regions.

In Benissa (Alicante), one in four children are off school at the moment with influenza-like symptoms.

The ministry of health says seasonal 'flu hit 59 people per 1,000 inhabitants a decade ago, but the AH1N1 virus – which has symptoms very similar to the common influenza – has already seen 6.9 per cent of the region's residents taking ill.

Figures have already risen by 64 per cent in less than two weeks.

Children under 14 appear to be the worst-affected, and many schools are sending entire classes of kids home until the risk of infection has been eradicated.

At Benissa's Manuel Bru primary school, 115 of the 459 pupils have not been to class this week and are reported as suffering from fever, headaches and upset stomachs.

But headmaster Manuel Juan insists there is no cause for alarm and that most patients recover within around three or four days.

However, he says he has 'never seen anything like it' in his ten years as head of the school.

Also in Benissa, around eight or nine children a day are off sick at the Josep Iborra school with similar symptoms.

Valencia's Doctor Peset hospital, which usually sees around 70 children a day in its paediatric unit, is now treating over 200 kids daily.

A total of 27 people have died from swine 'flu or complications with the virus and existing health conditions in less than a fortnight.

The death toll across Spain has reached 115.

Along with the Comunidad Valenciana, Catalunya and the Basque Country are some of the worst affected.

Sky-high police hash-plant hunters on patrol
POLICE helicopters across the Comunidad Valenciana are patrolling the region to check for hidden cannabis plantations.

They are not only taking photographs of entire allotments of marihuana plants, but also terraces and balconies of homes and greenhouses in gardens.

Using the latest technology, including videos and high-resolution cameras with radars and infrarred signals, the Guardia Civil are targeting both residential and rural areas.

They say it is more common to find small numbers of plants in indoor patios, terraces, balconies and air-conditioned rooms, although large plantations are occasionally found.

One of the largest hash allotments discovered to date was in October last year in Alcalà de Xivert (Castellón).

Another massive indoor plantation was found when emergency services attended to a house fire in Torrent in July.

Top three hospitals are in Torrevieja, Alzira and Valencia
THE region's top three hospitals have been named as those of Torrevieja, Alzira, and the Clínica Quirón in Valencia.

All three appear in the list of Spain's 20 best hospitals, which has just been published by the ministry of health.

Catalunya is home to a whopping 14 of these, named after around a third of the region's 155 hospitals were analysed by the central government.

Among the criteria judged was the mortality rate, the average length of stay, and the number of out-patient operations compared to surgery that requires patients to stay for at least a night.

They were classified into various categories, including specialist, general, regional and private.

Trickster poses as British aristocrat to con women out of thousands
NUMEROUS women have been duped into handing over thousands of euros by a conman posing as a member of the British aristocracy.

The accused, 47, is said to have pretended to be an upper-class Englishman about to inherit a multi-million-pound fortune, which he promised to share with his victims if they footed his admin and legal costs.

He claimed that due to cash flow, he was unable to pay these until he got his inheritance.

But the trickster, who was not even British but a Spaniard from San Sebastián (Basque Country) amassed over 700,000 euros and the women he targeted never heard from him again.

The women, who mainly lived in Cantabria and in the provinces of Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya in the Basque Country, were said to be sucked in by the man's elegant nature and charm – and his fake identity.

As a result of the fraud, police say the accused spent three years living like a real member of the aristocracy, eating in the best restaurant and staying in top hotels.

But some of the women he tried it on with saw through him immediately and reported him to the police, resulting in his arrest last week.

The heat is on
MINIMUM and maximum temperatures for public buildings have now been stipulated by legislation in order to protect the environment.

Bars, shops, airports, supermarkets and other premises frequented by the public must be no warmer than 21ºC in the winter.

In summer, the temperature should be set to a minimum of 26ºC.

Humidity levels should be between 30 and 70 per cent.

The central government, having enforced these rules as part of their three-year plan to save energy, intends to install thermostats in all public buildings to ensure the owners of the premises adhere to the newly-imposed requirements.

First-ever female Lieutenant Colonel in the Spanish army
FOR the first time in Spanish history, a woman has reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Armed Forces.

Patricia Ortega, who – until now – has been commander of the Polytechnic Engineering Corps, joined the army in 1988 when she entered the General Military Academy in Zaragoza as a working pupil after completing her agricultural engineering degree at Madrid Polytechnic.

After finishing her training at the military school, Lt. Col. Ortega became captain of the Polytechnic Engineering Corps and construction engineer in 1992.

She has since completed a masters degree in eco-auditing and is currently studying for a PhD in town planning at Madrid Polytechnic.

The ministry of defence reveals that of the 16,412 women currently in the forces – being 12 per cent of the total – 10,222 are in the territorial army; 2,666 in the Navy; 2,891 in the air force and 633 in the common corps.

Ortega is the first to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Spain has the second-highest percentage of women in its forces, after France's 14 per cent, and ahead of Greece's 10 per cent, the UK and Holland's nine per cent and Germany and Belgium's eight per cent. 

'Insalubrious' campsite shut down
A CAMPSITE in Llíria has been closed down due to its dirty and unhygienic state, reveals the town council.

Local authorities have been threatening to shut the Camping Aguas site for 15 years, claiming it is illegal.

They say there are too many caravans and prefabricated buildings, meaning the occupants are packed together like sardines.

Loose electricity cables and out-of-control dumping of waste were among the reasons the council cited for closing the site.

Its owners were given notice at the beginning of the summer to resolve the various problems on the site or face closure and a fine.

CV-660 in Ontinyent to be finished by June
THE new road between Fontanars and Ontinyent will be finished by the end of June next year, local authorities confirm.

Work has been ongoing on the CV-660 in order to get rid of the sharp bends and dangerous curves that make this stretch of the road a notorious accident blackspot and particularly nerve-wracking after dark.

It will also flatten out the sloping parts of the carriageway, cut down air pollution levels and enable the traffic to flow more freely.

Pick it up or pay up, says Xàtiva council
DOGS in Xàtiva who defecate on the street could cost their owners a fortune unless the pooch's parents pick it up.

Fines ranging from 60 to 300 euros will be slapped on dog-walkers who do not bag it and bin it.

Local authorities complain that they have to send street-cleaners out several times a day to clear up after lazy pet-owners who cannot be bothered to clear up their dogs' excrement.

They also hit out at selfish dog-owners who let their pets foul on parks and gardens designed for the public to relax and enjoy the view, and for children to play, saying they are spoiling the privilege for their fellow townspeople.

The council also has to shell out a significant sum of money on a regular basis to disinfect roads, pavements and gardens where dog-mess has led to infestations of flies, it has revealed.

Canine excrement attracts germs that can cause serious infections and other illnesses.

Ex faces prison for 'puncturing girlfriend's condoms'
A MAN who reportedly punctured his ex-girlfriend's condoms without her knowledge could face two years in jail if found guilty.

Police say the accused, David P.B., used his spare key to the woman's home in Vidreres (Selva) to enter her home, where she lived with her mother.

He had arranged to have a set of keys cut without his ex-partner's knowledge.

On occasions, the suspect – who was in a relationship with the woman for around 18 months – is thought to have climbed through the window to gain access to the flat when his former girlfriend changed the locks.

Once inside, he punched holes in the condoms she kept in her drawer, and moved her photographs around.

The victim reported the matter to the Mossos d'Esquadra.

Her ex-boyfriend faces trial in spring 2010 before a jury.

Drunk lorry driver causes powercut
A DRUNK lorry-driver left part of the industrial estate in Olot without electricity when he crashed into a number of pylons a week ago.

The accused is said to have veered off the main Sant Joan de les Abadesses road and driven over a roundabout.

Local Police, who attended the scene at the Pla de Baix industrial estate, said the lorry-driver had fled the scene before they arrived.

But officers managed to catch up with him shortly afterwards and breathalysed him.

He is said to have significantly exceeded the legal alcohol limit, and will face trial before a judge.

Police carry defibrillators to treat cardiac arrests
POLICE in Olot are now carrying defibrillators in order to treat members of the public who suffer from cardiac arrests.

These portable gadgets are gradually being installed in public areas, such as shopping centres, throughout Spain.

Used correctly and in time, they may restart a person's heart in the event of an emergency.

This is often enough to keep the patient alive for enough time to allow an ambulance to arrive.

Olot police officers all carry defibrillators 24 hours a day in their patrol cars.

They are also undertaking eight-hour training courses to learn how to use the gadgets properly.

Listed status for Mediaeval fortress
SANT Iscle d'Empordà's castle could be declared a listed heritage monument if the council's culture department has its way.

The stunningly-attractive Mediaeval fortress would then join the Ullastret archaeological dig, which dates back to the prehistoric Iberian era, as a building of National Cultural Interest.

But there is already opposition from councils of nearby towns and villages that could be affected by the castle's surroundings becoming a green-belt area, particularly the local authorities in nearby  Serra de Daró.

An appeal for the castle to be listed as such was first made by the association SOS Empordanet in the summer of 2007 when plans were on the table to build a house right behind the fortress.

The house would have been located within the boundaries of Serra de Daró, but the plans were found to be flouting town planning rules and were rejected.

Vandals caught destroying gardens
LOCAL Police in Ripoll have arrested two men aged 22 and 29 after catching them red-handed defacing a public garden in the town.

They were spotted in the early hours of last Saturday morning wrecking the gardens alongside the main Ribes de Freser road.

Various wooden pot-plants were overturned and emptied, and plants stamped into the ground.

They have been taken in for questioning and charged with vandalism to public property.

New tourist and cultural centre to open in Sitges next month
MAJOR improvement works are being carried out in Sitges, including the construction of a new tourism and cultural centre.

A mechanical escalator is also being built to connect the old town of Sitges with that of El Poble Sec, and the Pompeu Fabra street is undergoing a facelift.

Street-lights will be set up, and access to the street for traffic improved.

Mayor Jordi Baijet and town planning councillor Armand Paco, together with the head of economic promotion and tourism, visited the three sites this week.

It is hoped that the tourist and cultural information centre will be open by the end of the year.

Visitors to Sitges will be able to step across the road to go to the centre, since it is just opposite the train station.

Booths will be set up to attend to customers, together with a room where tourists can find information for themselves.

A shop selling local produce and tourist goods will be included.

In the meantime, the second tourist information office – located in the Can Milà building – will be renovated in January.

Cashpoint mugger targeted the elderly
A YOUNG man who mugged elderly people at cashpoint machines has been arrested in Reus.

The accused, a 25-year-old Moroccan national, is said to have watched over his victims as they withdrew money and then followed them, before pouncing on them and stealing the cash.

According to the Mossos d'Esquadra, the suspect is behind at least 11 muggings on senior citizens between May and September this year.

He is also thought to have carried out three violent robberies on van-drivers who had just emptied fruit machines to transport the takings to the bank.

Jaouad B. was caught as he was attempting to board a ferry en route back to Morocco from the port of Barcelona.

Early Christmas lights in Tarragona
CHRISTMAS lights could go on early this year in the centre of Tarragona in a bid to give the retail industry a boost.

Chamber of Commerce president Albert Abellò insists that funds spent on the extra electricity bill will be compensated for by the surge in city-centre trade.

Additionally, he recommends the use of energy-saving bulbs to cut costs and damage to the environment.

The lights were due to be switched on yesterday (Wednesday), three weeks before Christmas.

Bigger and better police station in Tarragona
A NEW National Police station was opened in Tarragona on Tuesday.

Work started on renovating the building, located on the Muelle de Costa pier, in May.

The new police station has more customer service desks than the previous headquarters, and a much larger office for handling passport renewal applications.

Golf Costa Brava's monolith comes down
A HUGE monolith in the shape of a golf ball that has advertised the presence of the Golf Costa Brava resort for 40 years has been taken down to make way for a roundabout.

But the structure has not disappeared altogether, since it has now been installed in the Girona-based Golf Costa Brava Hotel and can be seen on Google Maps.

Local authorities said they had no choice but to take it down in order to build the roundabout on the Carrer Teulera, which is aimed at making it easier for pedestrians to cross the road to the Avinguda Ridaura.

Gran Casino Costa Brava to open next summer
LLORET de Mar's brand-new casino is expected to be open to the public by June 2010.

The construction of the Gran Casino Costa Brava, next to the Hotel Guitart Monterrey on the Tossa de Mar road, is already well under way.

As well as a huge games room, the building will also house a conference room, a restaurant, a multi-purpose events hall and an art gallery.

It will create 250 year-round jobs, has five storeys and parking for 500 vehicles.

Games will include Russian, American and French roulette, fruit machines, Black Jack and Mini Punt Blanc and poker tables.

The restaurant will be headed up by a Michelin-starred chef from Madrid.

UN slams overbuilding on the Costa
UN representatives have criticised the mass building development along the Mediterranean coast, particularly on the Costa Brava and in the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona.

They say it will encourage a flood of immigrants, bringing with it more terrorism and arms- and drug-trafficking.

Additionally, the new homes, hotels and golf courses will use up massive quantities of water, damaging the environment.

Harmful emissions into the atmosphere could also result, claims the UN.

They fear that the third world will be the worst-hit by the damaging effects of global warming, pushing them to seek out a new life in the more prosperous west and leading to overcrowding and uncontrolled immigration.

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