Elche Strategic Plan

(Text provided by Xàbia Socialist Party : PSOE relating to a talk given in Xàbia October 2010 as part of the PSOE's "Forum for Change series of lectures - the plan is described (in Castellano) on http://www.futurelx.com/))

The talk, entitled "STRATEGIC PLAN. A LOOK TO THE FUTURE", was delivered by Alejandro Soler, Mayor since 2007, of Elche the third largest city of Valencia, and councillor since 1997, heading up different departments, such as Sports, Culture, and Youth, where he championed the youth organisation Espai Jove Elx-, the city’s assets include a plan for the City’s Sports Facilities and a Support Plan for the Footwear industry (the largest industry in the city). In addition, Soler holds various responsibilities at an organic level in the regional PSOE and as deputy secretary general of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces.
Elche is the third largest city Valencia, with more than 232 000 inhabitants and one of the 20 most important in Spain, having the Palmeral (Palm Groves) and the Mystery Play, both declared World Heritage Sites, over 9km of almost virgin beach, and the footwear industry.

However the Chinese shoe industry precipitated the crisis of the principal activity of the city, and something had to be done. Thus, in 1997 Elche decided to create its first Strategic Plan for the city, which began with an analysis of the weaknesses and strengths of the municipality, and continued with the creation of strategic and action plans, which were broadly agreed with the citizens.

Elche promotes its own industrial land

First we decided it was essential to diversify our economic activity, as the municipality could not rely solely on footwear. To achieve this, we drew up a Plan for Competitiveness, Employment and Economic Development.

On the one hand, the council decided to extend the amount of industrial land available, but through direct and public promotion, not leaving the decision of how to manage municipal land in private hands. Thus was created the municipal company, PIMESA, which is responsible for creating industrial land, a business park and social housing.
In this way, the City became the facilitator for local businesses, instead of always putting obstacles to private initiatives. The objectives were not just for local industries, but also to attract outside companies to invest. An example is Temper, the company that makes shoes for Inditex (Zara Group), whose capital is 50% local and 50% Amancio Prada. The company employs over 500 people, produces more than 27 million pairs of shoes annually worth 483 million euros and exports from Elche to the 3691 Zara shops worldwide.
The Elche Consistory now intends to further expand the availability of industrial land, and even create social housing, a golf course and leisure areas, but always with 100% control by the municipality. It is also planning a future business park for large industry near Alicante airport, and the motorways, a trade exhibition centre, all of which will allow Elche be even more competitive.

Antonio Soler also talked about the different strategies that the city has to facilitate access to housing. In addition to promoting the creation of VPOs (council housing), Elche also provides rental housing for citizens by providing a sure guarantee that the owner will receive the rent, and to repair damage caused by tenants, in return for lowering the rental costs.

Stimulation of employment and business support

Collaboration with companies is another important item on the agenda of Elche. In this way, according to Soler, the City Council has a collaboration agreement with each of the business sectors. In addition, the Town Hall of Elche has a program to boost employment, with subsidies of up to 4,000 € for companies that hire people who are members of families with no income. This support has now been extended to include those who, at most, receive the 400 € government subsidy.
In addition, it also seeks to improve the training of citizens, in particular, it wants to break the digital divide and provide the opportunity for everyone in Elche to learn how to use a computer in one of the six computer halls, which the municipality has established in the city.
Also, the City of Elche works with young entrepreneurs, through a collaboration agreement with JOVEMEC and JOVEMPA offering them counselling, assistance in job searches and guiding them in setting up new business ventures and ensuring the viability of them. Therefore, instead of delaying private initiatives – usually the norm with town halls, Elche tries to support and encourage newly created businesses through regular follow-up. An example is the challenge proposed to reduce the Consistory licensing procedures to only 15 days.
Another objective of the City of Elche is the enhancement of their own products, such as pomegranate, footwear, agriculture, dates and palm trees.

Elche tries to enhance the value of its tourist attractions

Elche historically has always lived with the support of tourism, having two World Heritage Sites and 9km of beaches, of which 90% are virgin dunes, the nearest buildings being more than 500m from the coastline.
The Strategic Plan proposes to enhance the value of these assets, but how to do it, ie, the choice of project, is subject to public debate, a process which is not always smooth, but necessary, admitted Soler,. The secret of a good Strategic Plan is to have all the different groups of citizens well represented.

Thus, it has received the opinions of the residents in deciding to how to value El Palmeral – the palm groves of Elche, (not without some controversy), in the creation of a large rotating big wheel observatory.

Elche's future is decided by its citizens

Achieving it is not easy, says Soler, but it is the task of the City Council. In Elche, three people are dedicated solely to the Strategic Plan together with the involvement of technicians from all municipal departments and council members.
These people have as an objective, among other things, to encourage the involvement of residents and to organize monthly meetings of 10 working groups: industry, agriculture, environment, youth, culture, tourism, sports, services, leisure and planning. Moreover, all the debates are published on the Web, since it is the best way to reach everyone.

The major city projects are decided among all the citizens. For example, the city has proposed three designs of concert halls that are now being subjected to a public vote. The debate that is generated is not always easy, and unfortunately there are sectors of the population who refuse to participate and limit themselves only to criticism.. Although the ideal situation is that everyone contributes to define the city model, the conflict should not prevent a continued investment in citizen participation and transparency.

As for Elche’s municipal budget, it is decided according to the Action Plan agreed with the citizens. Also 15% of the investment is participatory, ie, it is the residents who decide how to allocate this money locally for the improvement of pavements, public garden improvements, etc.

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