IN 2002, the Masonic Home of Valencia Association, applied for permission to build a community retirement home in Benigembla, situated in the Pop valley – a project that was originally welcomed with open arms by both the Alicante authorities and the Valencian Social Services.
Eight years later and with mountains of bureaucratic paperwork behind them, the project came to a grinding halt when the authorities inexplicably pulled the plug, leaving a building fund of some €450,000 virtually quarantined in a bank vault.
Since then, committee members of the M.H.V.A have been involved in protracted discussions on how to change the articles of association to free the funds for use in the best interest of the community.
When the project was finally shelved in 2010, the then association Chairman Hugh Parker said that the situation was, ‘Beyond belief and totally contravening the law of the country and democratic rights.’
Today, the dispirited members of the Association are still in a state of limbo, wondering where it all went wrong, a mystery they say that will never be solved.
Maybe they are right, but apart from unconfirmed reports of irregularities within the town planning department, further investigations by the EWN has uncovered some disturbing facts that may have had some influence on the decision making process.
In 2001, the association purchased a plot of land in Benigembla and subsequently the following year submitted a draft plan to the Alicante authorities. Their reaction was very favourable. Benigembla local council also indicated they were happy with the proposals as the home promised much needed employment and a direct increase in local business.
As a result, the association went ahead with the investment, spending the following two years negotiating and re-negotiating with the planning authorities and researching environmental requirements such as flora, fauna, water, pathways, gardens and views. Subsequently in 2004, final detailed drawings were completed and submitted.
One year later in 2005, without giving any reasons, the authorities demanded a completely new set of drawings. Although totally confused and angered by the delays, the drawings were eventually revised and handed over.
Then, what would eventually prove to be the killer blow, the Association were informed that environmental objections had been received claiming the proposed site was below the level of the River Gorgos and would be subject to flooding and that it was also home to a great variety of protected bird species, objections that were never aired when the land was originally purchased. Subsequent investigations by independent experts disproved these claims and in fact showed that the town of Benigembla itself was lower than the proposed site.
They also found no evidence of unusual bird activity. Questions that were raised as to the authenticity of the objections met with a protracted wall of silence.
A mystery that remained until the EWN uncovered a possible explanation.
In 2004, six Benigembla councillors were pressured to resign after it was revealed the town council had earlier signed a secret controversial plan with the all powerful El Grup Ballester conglomerate to build a massive urbanisation of 1500 new houses and a golf course, allowing the group to have total control over all future urban development – a project that was later proven to be totally unsustainable for the municipal services of the town.
However, it wasn’t until May 21st 2010 that this secret plan was finally revoked at a council meeting; just months after the Association had been forced to abandon their Retirement Home project. We informed the Association of our findings and asked what’s next and how will the money be used?
In an exclusive interview, Vice President Bruce Nightingale told us that although they have not totally abandoned the idea of a Retirement Home project, the Association has applied to legally amend the articles of association to enable the funds, raised by Masonic Lodges and the Charity Shop of Moraira, to be donated to charitable causes.
It was later confirmed by the Association Treasurer that this should not be interpreted as big-bonanza-cash-give-away, as 60% of the capital will be invested with Blevins Franks and that only the interest and remaining 40% will be available for distribution.
How and when the money will be available, is still under discussion.
EWN EXCLUSIVE By Benny Davis