Tosu For Ever Assembly

Spades against cement

  • Ibarbengoa metro station, between Getxo and Berango, was completed in 2011, but it has never been used. The station is part of a larger plan which has yet to be carried out: 8,000 houses and a giant car park in an area which has kept its rural character until now. The housing project has been temporarily suspended, but the car park plan has not. A group of citizens has spent six years on the field where the car park is going to be built: their aim is to stop its construction and, at the same time, offer an alternative way of life. Welcome to Tosu.

Unai Brea @unaibrea
2017ko ekainaren 08a
(Photo: Aritz Loiola)

Although there are seven stations in Getxo, the metro only stops at six of them. The seventh, officially called Getxo-Ibarbengoa, was completed in 2011, but no trains have ever stopped there, and passengers have never walked along its platforms. It is called the ghost station. It is in an unusual place for a station, with only four or five houses on the fields around it.

To comply with the authorities' objectives, there will be an underground car park for 300 cars – in fact, it should have been built already – at Ibarbengoa station in the area known as Tosu. Instead of that, the countryside around Tosu is currently made up of a few kitchen gardens, a few posters and a shed. Tents have also been put up from time to time. Since the station was finished in 2011, there have always been people occupying the field, struggling to prevent the car park project from going ahead.

The field at Tosu has changed in appearance considerably since a group of people from Getxo started parking their cars where cows used to graze. There are no cows any more, and some kitchen gardens have taken up some of the grazing land, along with some trees, and all thanks to the squatters. A large shed is used as a house and store, and a smaller one is the toilet. Nagore and Gorka, members of Tosu For Ever Assembly, received us in the larger to the two sheds.

A plan for 20,000 more inhabitants

"The Bilbao Metropolitan Territory Plan was presented in 2007, and it includes the Uribe Kosta region", Gorka tells us. "In fact, there was a plan to build 30,000 houses in the area, 8,000 of them in Getxo". Most of them were going to be built in the Andra Mari district, which local people just call Getxo, the oldest part of the town, and where most of the few remaining green spaces are to be found, bordering with Berango.

Some members of the Tosu For Ever Assembly, calling the demonstration held on 21st January, 2017.
(Photo: Hiruka-CC BY SA)

"Andra Mari has always been a farming area", says Gorka. "It's been built on little by little, they've built chalets and others houses in between the farmhouses, but a few areas of grazing land have remained”. It was in that context that the plan for 8,000 houses was announced. "It would be like building another Areeta, a neighbourhood with 20,000 inhabitants, and all the infrastructure which comes with it". The members of Tosu For Ever remember that there was an immediate reaction. Andra Mari already had a very active district association, and 3,000 people came together at a demonstration against the building project in 2007.

As well as showing its strength in the street, the Andra Mari association has also managed to break the balance in the town council. When the Basque Left was illegal, they asked people to vote for the Greens, and many people in the district did so. As always, the Basque Nationalist Party (Basque right) won the elections, but with a smaller difference than usual and, seeing that they did not have enough power on the town council, they put the plan for 8,000 houses to one side, waiting for better times. Shortly afterwards the economic crisis started and the building bubble burst. The project put in an appearance over the following years, but in a more modest form.

For the moment, the idea of covering the grazing land with cement was abandoned, and they started building Ibarbengoa station in 2008. "Local people had long been asking for the train line to be underground at Anda Mari", Tosu For Ever Assembly's Nagore remembers. "They managed to achieve that, but they also knocked down the old Getxo station and built a new one at Bidezabal, closer to Algorta and, so, further from many local people's homes. The excuse used for starting to build Ibarbengoa station was replacing the old station, but that was obviously no more than an excuse, and, in fact, the station has not yet been opened". They are opposed to the Ibarbengoa car park, which would be the first step towards building houses in the surrounding area.

For reducing traffic, or the opposite?

The Tosu car park is an initiative of the Bizkaia Transport Consortium. The mayor of Getxo, Imanol Landa (EAJ), is also a member of that organization, and the town council is fully behind the initiative. In order to ask his opinion, we tried to get in touch with the counsellor in charge of transport, Joseba Arregi, but people at the town council just sent us a press release from a few months ago and told us that all the information we needed was there.

In the note, the main group in Getxo town council expresses it "complete support" for the "car park next to the Ibarbengoa metro station, and the project for opening the station, it being clear that this would be positive for Getxo and Uribe Kosta in terms of transport and the environment.

The metro at Getxo is more frequent than at some other local towns. According to the town council, providing a place for parking cars will enable many townspeople to take advantage of that frequency and at a cheap price: 70 cents for a day's parking. Thanks to that, many drivers will not go into the centre of Getxo and, in general, many cars will be taken off the roads. "That chance to combine public transport with travel by car is something that townspeople are asking for more and more", according to Bizkaia Transport Consortium.

The members of Tosu For Ever Assembly do not agree: "We believe that building a car park is never designed to take cars off the road; it's just another infrastructure for using cars", Nagore tells us. "They built a motorway nearby here to avoid traffic jams, and it didn't work; now a car park… They always use the same excuse". They also want to make clear that they do not oppose opening Ibarbengoa station, "because they will end up opening it". But for the authorities, building the car park is an indispensable prior condition for opening the station.

Participation, but what type of participation?

The Getxo General Town Plan dates from 2001, and it specifies that the whole municipal area can be built on, with the two exceptions of the coastal strip, where building is illegal, and the golf course at Andra Mari. In that context, the plan to build 8,000 houses made perfect sense, but, as we have seen, the town council has had no choice but to leave the plan in a drawer since 2007. A few years later a participation process was opened for preparing alternatives, and it took place between 2011 and 2015.

Iñigo Elortegi, one of the people who took part in the process, is a member of Getxoko Auzokideok ('Getxo locals') platform: "The town council gave us three options: the optimistic point of view was building 8,000 houses; a more moderate view involved between 2,500 and 4,000; the most pessimistic, 2,000. They were in favour of the middle option". No less that than. But 55% of the people who took part decided in favour of "zero development", even though that had not been among the initial options: Building no new houses in Getxo between 2013-2017, and making a new offer to use the 3,500 houses in the town which were empty and usable. According to Elortegi, the working group in charge of the project did not take that possibility into account, and that led to more than half of the people leaving the process.

There is a person on the census at the shed on the field at Tosu. There are 10-15 member of Tosu For Ever Assembly. (Photo: Hiruka-CC By SA)

"They aren't going to build 8,000 houses, but perhaps they will build 4,000, and that's what EAJ wants to do", say Elortegi. It won't be easy for them, and they don't even want to renew the Town Plan as they would have to negotiate it with EH Bildu and Podemos. They're probably waiting for better times, hoping to get a greater majority at the next elections". They may come across another obstacle when the Basque Autonomous Community Territorial Organization Guide is published in the near future: it is believed that it will involve a change of approach compared with the 2007 context. "It seems that the current tendency is to protect green belts around towns", says Elortegi, "there’s some sort of need to keep the land which the economic crisis left alone. The days of the town council getting substantial funding from the building sector".

The housing shortage does not justify wanting to build thousands of new houses, in Elortegi's words. He agrees with Gorka and Nagore from Tosu For Ever. He reminds us that the population of Getxo has fallen over recent years: from around 83,000 to 78,000.

Looking for another model of society

In the middle of all of this, over the years a group of people have put together a way of life on the Tosu grazing field. Or they are trying to do that, at least. Things have been happening there since 2011. They have camped out five times altogether. The first three camps lasted for a specific period of time and were held in opposition to town planning. The last two were resistance camp, started to stand against specific threats, and with no time limit, at least at first. The last of them was at the end of January, 2017, when it really looked as if work was about to begin. For the moment, however, the only workers who have gone there are topographers. They have carried out their work without any opposition from the members of Tosu For Ever. However, they have put together a protocol for when the machines arrive.

In the meantime, they have changed the shed, which used to have thin walls, into a place to spend winter, with a kitchen and bunk beds, some walls made of adobe and others of cardboard, using recycled materials. The kitchen gardens have also come along. An association which works with people in danger of being marginalised approached them a couple of years ago, and now one of the kitchen gardens is theirs. One person is on the census at the Tosu grazing field shed, and they have put a copy of part of a law forbidding violent entry into housing for when the police go there. Once they had a visit from the municipal police, who wanted to check that the person on the census there actually lived there. But people coming and going is the main feature of life at Tosu. Talks, acts, selling hamburgers on Sunday afternoons… Things do take place, and, in general, they are proud of the good relationships they have with neighbours.  

"Now is the time for us to quietly sit down and talk about the type of lifestyle we want to build here, to improve our relationships, to balance our levels of commitment, to not have relationships of power", Nagore and Gorka explain to us: "Sometimes we make a myth of assemblies, but relationships have to be worked on every day. The companies haven't made a move since our last camp-out, and we want to take advantage of this moment of peace to reflect on our inner standards".

"We are not here just to defend the land", says Gorka: "We want to create another type of society, full of energy, in favour of foods, in favour of relationships… We have photovoltaic panels, all the material has been reused, we serve food from the producers next door at our suppers, or from our kitchen garden. It isn't just a fight against the car park".

This article was translated by 11itzulpen; you can see the original in Basque here

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