A monument to debt
Torrejón's extravagant theme park has left dormitory town 70 million euros in the red
Among visitors last week to Torrejón de Ardoz's Parque Europa were Fang-Fang Ye and her husband Miaopo Xu, a Chinese couple who live in Tenerife. They had just got married, and were celebrating the occasion, along with their guests, with a visit to the theme park located 25 kilometers northeast of Madrid, complete with a 60-centimeter deep boating lake, that is home to 16 replicas (of varying scales) of some of Europe's best-known buildings and monuments.
Fang-Fang Ye and his guests say that they had heard about the park, but that it was their Spanish photographer who insisted that this was the ideal way to spend their wedding afternoon. They were photographed standing in front of the Puerta del Sol, the Brandenburg Gate, Tower Bridge and Lisbon's Belém Tower.
Asked if they aware of the controversy that surrounds the park, opened in 2010, and visited since by some two million people, according to the town hall, they said they knew nothing.
As well as the replicas, the town hall planted 5,000 trees, 60,000 shrubs and 120,000 flowers in the 233,000-square-meter complex, designating it a green area.
The Popular Party-controlled council says it cost 12 million euros to build, while the opposition says the real cost was 15 million euros.
There is also disagreement over the running costs, which town hall says amount to 600,000 euros a year, slightly less than the income in generates, and which provides some 120 jobs. The Socialist Party says that the annual running costs are more than three million euros. "And that is lower than in the first year, when the costs were five million euros," says the party's spokesman in Torrejón, Guillermo Fouce, adding: "It costs 200,000 euros a month in water alone."
The park has a 1,100-square-meter boating lake surrounding the reproduction of the Belém Tower. "If somebody puts their hand in the water it has to be amputated," chuckles Antonio, a Murcian tourist. "It doesn't matter whether it cost 12 million or 15 million euros, because it isn't worth either figure. The park makes no sense. The point is that the town hall can't afford to run the place. The water in the lakes has no oxygen in it. I don't think anybody uses the water skate park either, because it's very dirty," he adds, stating that he is in the park purely "because somebody in the family insisted on coming."
Juan, a Torrejón resident, goes further: "This park is pure propaganda. Even so, they have done it well. But I think it's madness, they've spent money they didn't have, and all on the back of the taxpayers."
Torrejón council has just announced a financial restructuring plan. It owes 70 million euros. A significant part of that debt, although the mayor's office won't say how much, is related to the construction of the park.
The town is not alone in facing a mountain of debt. After two decades of what many analysts and officials say has been unbridled spending off the back of easy credit during the economic boom years, growing numbers of villages, towns, and major cities are finding that revenue has all but dried up in the economic crisis.
In March Spain's government approved a new loan fund, in conjunction with banks, so that towns could soon get cash to pay suppliers. The loans would be paid back over 10 years at favorable rates.
But all this was of little concern to visitors like Ye and Xu on Europe Day last week, or Fernando, a local 60-year-old resident of Torrejón, who received some unexpected news the same day. "Yes, yes, the park is all well and good but it would have been better if they had used this money to help people that need it most. Seven years ago I asked for a subsidized home and today I received a letter saying that I had been granted it. Yes, but in Galapagar. After a lifetime here I have to go. Really I shouldn't say that it will be a bad day but that I should be happy. And I came here to meditate."