In pictures: Two Spanish crises in one - anti-austerity protests and separatist strife

As protestors surround Madrid, Catalonia ponders independence.

Austerity in Spain has led to political strife which shows no sign of slowing down.

In Madrid, protests on Tuesday night turned violent, as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and charged crowds. 32 people, including some police officers, were injured by the clashes, and many were arrested.

The protest had been planning to physically surround the parliament, but when it overran its 9:30pm deadline, police moved in. The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the government and the king – who has historically stayed less clear of Spanish politics than our monarchy has of British – and want the constitution to be rewritten.

The actions of the police came under fire, with protesters complaining that police officers hid their badges, as well as using excessive force. But the protesters weren't exactly non-violent themselves, as this widely shared video of a police-officer getting a rather savage beating shows (from 1:10):

The anti-austerity protests are unlikely to go away any time soon. Rajoy shortly has to present his budget to the legislature, and while the protesters have a strong idea of what they want to see, the international community demands a different sort of "credibility" – and Rajoy can't please both at once.

Mariano Rajoy

At the same time, a second crisis is erupting in Catalonia, the independently-minded region in the North-East of Spain. The regional government has announced snap elections on 25 November, two weeks earlier than expected, and is also planning on holding a referendum on independence.

Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas

The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports on the very concerning comments made by the Spanish army in response to the Catalonian nationalism:

First we have the robust comments of Colonel Francisco Alaman comparing the crisis to 1936 and vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as "vultures".

"Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries," he said. . .

Is case you think he is an isolated case, former army chief Lt-Gen Pedro Pitarch said his views reflect "deeply-rooted thinking in large parts of the armed forces".

Gen Pitarch said Catalan independence is out of the question, though he also said Madrid had bungled the crisis of the regions disastrously. "Are we looking at a failed state?" he asked.

Now we have an explicit threat from the Asociación de Militares Españoles (AME), an organisation of retired army officers, warning that anybody promoting the break-up of Spain ("fractura de España") will face treason trials in military courts.

El Pais reports that the anti-independence movement is also being pursued through more conventional political routes. Like scaremongering about the business implications:

"Uncertainty has an adverse effect on money and the business world; and that is what we have at the moment," said one businessman, who, despite his support for independence, admitted the current process has veered off a path of cogency.

Spain shows no sign of settling down any time soon.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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