Spain’s Ghost City Comes To Life

6 March 2016 – El País

Anybody who has passed Seseña, 30 minutes south of Madrid on the A4 highway, and seen the so-called residential city of El Quiñón in the distance will probably have thought it a blot on the landscape, a crazed monument to all that went wrong during two decades of frenzied property speculation. But ask the people who live there what they think and they’ll tell you a different story: they might not exactly be proud of the place, but on the whole they’re happy to be there.

Granted, its wide, car-free streets are mostly void of traffic, even though the local census puts the number of residents here at 6,411, twice the figure of four years ago: that’s because most of them are in Madrid, working. What’s more, they park their cars in the garages underneath their apartment blocks. During weekdays, the only time of day when the streets come alive is during the twice-daily 15-minute school runs. After that, the silence returns.

The majority of people living here are couples in their early thirties who moved here “for the children” – that, and the spacious, surprisingly well-built, and relatively low-priced apartments. It has to be said that there are still few amenities, but for the moment, most families seem happy with the swimming pool and gardens each apartment block is built round. The nearest cinemas require taking the car to nearby Pinto or Getafe, but then Aranjuez, 20 minutes away, has a population of 60,000 and no movie house.

El Quiñón is the brainchild of Francisco Hernando, better known as “Paco el Pocero,” a man who rose from humble beginnings in the hard years of the 1950s to become one of Spain’s most successful, and notorious, property developers.

Unlike many of the thousands of property developments built in Spain during the 1990s and early 2000s, one thing that has to be said is that Hernando didn’t skimp on quality when it came to building El Quiñón (…).

In the aftermath of the crash of 2008, journalists from all over the world made the trek out to Seseña, dubbing it the “ghost town” that symbolized the excesses of the property boom. Residents blame the media for its reputation and are still wary of talking to journalists.

But a real-estate agent based here is prepared to talk, and says that demand for apartments in El Quiñón is growing. The first people to move here, in 2007, paid up to €250,000 for a three-bedroom, 100-square-meter apartment. That was during phase one of the project, where around 3,600 people now live. The average price of the 2,300 apartments in phase two is now less than €100,000, up from the €50,000 they were being offered for in 2011.

It was thanks to the efforts of the Popular Party mayor Carlos Velázquez in 2011 that the licenses required to open phase two of El Quiñón finally came through. “We had to unblock the situation, look to the future; that’s what residents here wanted,” he says. Hernando finally agreed to pay the €6.7 million he owed the local council, and water supplies were provided.

With this, El Quiñón finally became part of the municipality of Seseña, a small community around five kilometers away, and a full range of services became available. Until then, those here were not just living in the middle of nowhere; they were living in legal limbo as well. Much remains to be done, and residents have a long list of requirements: a proper service road to the A4, a health center, another school, a nursery, better transport connections with Madrid…(…).

Original story: El País (by Iñigo Domínguez)

Edited by: Carmel Drake