Urban development: the shanty town of the abandoned Formula 1 circuit in Valencia | Society



View of the abandoned Valencia Formula 1 circuit, near the city’s port, now occupied by huts built with fences from the original infrastructure.Monica Torres

Nabil, 30, did not know that the tarmac on which his cabin sits was part of the Formula 1 circuit in Valencia. Spanish racing driver Fernando Alonso won the Grand Prix last year when the city hosted the event in 2012. Since then, the circuit, which cost regional authorities € 98.5 million to build, has been abandoned. Today, within its perimeter, a small slum housing a predominantly migrant community has sprung up as town planners seek a way out of the legal real estate disputes hampering the development of this first beachfront real estate lot. Currently, however, it is home to Nabil, who makes a living helping park cars on nearby Malvarrosa beach. He returns in the evening with bags full of water and food bottles.

Nabil is one of the fifty men living in the space where the European Grand Prix took place between 2008 and 2012 for a total cost of more than 300 million euros, taking into account the fee, the circuit and the purchase of rights. Most of the migrants here are Sahrawis, originally from the western part of the Sahara Desert, but there are also Moroccans, Algerians and Sub-Saharans, as well as a few Spaniards, according to Nabil, who is joined by Boubacar to describe their situation. . .

Boubacar, 31, is from Mali and lived in one of these precarious and unsanitary huts until several months ago. Crafted from plastic, various types of fabric, wooden planks, pieces of old fence, cement blocks and other pieces, the cabins have no electricity or running water. A Spanish flag flies from one; the greatest smells of freshly brewed tea. A prostrate man signals to put down his glass; another washes his head with water from a basin with the help of a third. The sun is strong. There is no trace of shadow. Nobody wants to talk; they don’t want to be disturbed.

Cabins in the center of the esplanade which is part of the abandoned Formula 1 circuit in Valencia.
Cabins in the center of the esplanade which is part of the abandoned Formula 1 circuit in Valencia. Monica Torres

People here just want to make a living. “I take any job there,” says Boubacar, whose Spanish is fluent after eight years in Spain. “I worked in the fields and also with the elderly. I don’t want anything from anyone. I’m not expecting anything either; just to be able to make a living. Meanwhile, Nabil adds: “I just want to work in any field. During the summer I can earn around € 30 per day with the cars. Sometimes people came to help us.

According to Isa Lozano, city councilor in charge of social services, most of the slum dwellers have residence and work permits and occasionally carry out agricultural work such as fruit picking. She adds that the settlement did not create any social conflict in the neighborhood. This point of view is shared by an occupant of a neighboring building, which has seen the shanty town grow, but also by the Grau-Port neighborhood association, which requires that any development include large green spaces.

Since the end of 2019, social service workers have been monitoring conditions in the makeshift camp. “The colony has grown,” explains Lozano, who belongs to the left-wing Compromís party which has run Valencia city hall in coalition with the Socialist Party (PSOE) since 2015. “We have 39 registered and a dozen who are not yet We have offered them alternatives. We are continuing to work on it. This is a very striking case because it occupies the middle of the old circuit which awaits the Integrated Program of Action for Grau.

The Integral Action Program (PAI) is an urbanization plan of nearly 300,000 square meters in the Grau district of Valence. The macro-operation was proposed when Francisco Camps and Rita Baberá, both of the Conservative Popular Party (PP), were respectively at the head of the regional and municipal government, and Spain was in the midst of a real estate boom.

Since 2012, the F1 circuit, the construction of which cost the local authorities 98.5 million euros, has been abandoned.

In May 2007, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone stipulated that these two politicians had to win their respective elections at the time if they were to host the races. In that year’s municipal and regional elections, Camps and Barbará won an absolute majority and Camps said the circuit would not cost Valencia residents “a single euro”. A new district was simultaneously planned in the district of Grau with skyscrapers overlooking the sea that would use the circuit as streets. The regional government has advanced payment for the construction of this part of the circuit, a cost that the city of Valencia would pass on to the private developers involved in the project, as announced before the start of the financial and real estate crisis of 2008.

Today, the sum of 42.9 million euros still due for the circuit is the main stumbling block for development. The investment group Atitlan, which owns a large part of the land, and the British fund Hayfin Capital are negotiating with the city of Valencia on the continuation of the project, according to sources from the town planning department. But the obstacles are not only economic.

A corruption investigation, known as the Azud case, investigated alleged bribes the city of Valencia received under the Barbará administration in exchange for favors related to urban development. In the final chapter of the case, it emerged last May that the Civil Guard was investigating whether such commissions had been paid during the initial sale of the land for the Grau project.

One of the defendants in the Azud case is the businessman Jaime María Febrer, who was associated with the former owner of the land Acinelav Inversiones 2006, who, with the help of Bancaja – the financial instrument of the authorities regional at the time, later absorbed by Bankia – brought together local investors. Some of this land was then put in the hands of the so-called bad bank, Sareb, before being sold. The controversial F1 circuit had previously been the subject of a legal dispute but the case was filed in 2019 and Valencia Prime Minister Francisco Camps was exonerated from liability as Valencia’s High Court ruled that there had been no embezzlement and the period in which the prosecution of the alleged crimes could be prosecuted had ended.

Nonetheless, Valencia City Hall is hoping to move forward with development plans for the area that would provide another link between the city and the sea in an area that Nabil and Boubacar currently call home.

english version by Heather galloway.


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