‘It’s a perfect storm’: Pressure mounts on Barcelona mayor over city security

In the old fishermen’s neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, residents are having trouble sleeping. Its narrow streets that lead onto Barcelona’s beachfront are teeming with young tourists, many with beer cans or cocktails in hand.

In the area’s only park, the inebriated who can make it no further sleep where they fall, while others settle in to continue the party through the night. 

Despairing of the noise emanating from crammed tourist flats, the early hours brawling and public urination, and the drug paraphernalia frequently found in the children’s playground, locals are demanding Barcelona’s city hall take urgent action.

“People cannot rest,” said Manel Martinez, vice-president of the Barceloneta Neighbours’ Association. “Many residents are leaving the barrio – people who were born here – because they cannot go on living like this.”

It is just one of the multitude of complaints that awaits Ada Colau, Barcelona’s Left wing mayor, when she returns from her summer holiday this week.

In her absence, she has been slapped with a motion of censure voted through by opposition parties, who say she has allowed so-called "over-tourism" to drag parts of Barcelona into chaos. They have also demanded that she hand over responsibility for the city’s security to a council-appointed expert. 

Alfred Bosch, the head of the Left-wing ERC in the city council and a candidate in next year’s mayoral elections, has particularly strong words for Ms Colau, claiming Barcelona is in danger of becoming "the drug capital of Europe".

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Many residents are leaving the barrio – people who were born here – because they cannot go on living like this.Manel Martinez

Accused by Ms Colau’s party of making "apocalyptic" pronouncements as part of his political campaign, he defended his warning in an interview with the Telegraph, saying the proliferation of so-called "narco-flats" and illegal "coffee shops" in one of Europe’s most visited cities made it a clear risk. 

Critics stress that tourists are welcome in Barcelona, which according to the city government received more than 15 million visitors last year.

They say the problems lie in the lack of controls surrounding tourism, such the rise of sites such as AirBnB which they claim are strangling the rental market, the violence and public disorder surrounding the drug trade and the growth of illegal street selling.

Last week’s extraordinary meeting was called after a fight, partially caught on camera, between street sellers and tourists in the city’s central Plaça de Catalunya, when a US tourist claimed he was assaulted.

A series of fights between rival drug dealers in the Old Town neighbourhood of El Raval – videos of which have emerged in the media – have also generated alarm.

In one particularly high profile case in April, two men armed with nunchucks and a machete were filmed fighting in broad daylight in what turned out to be a pre-arranged duel.

Other incidents in the past week include a man being attacked with a stick and a knife and a nighttime standoff between groups of alleged prostitutes.

Neighbourhood groups say the causes are complex. In the case of El Raval, many drug flats – of which there are believed to be up to 45 in the area – were occupied by dealers after being left empty by evictions during the financial crisis.

The growth of tourism in Barcelona then fed the trade, with an “image of permissiveness” attracting visitors who believed they could behave in ways they would not at home.

Representatives of two groups, Action Raval and Action Reina Amalia, said that building owners who let to tourists often took a passive attitude to the problem, claiming that they were happy for remaining residents to be driven out by "misery" so they could sell to developers.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said a spokesman from Action Reina Amalia.

Back in La Barceloneta, Mr Martinez expressed similar sentiments. Young people arrive from all over Europe thinking that “here they can do whatever”, he said, relating incidents of tourists passing out drunk in the middle of the street. 

“Do you do this in your own country?" he asked, adding: “We don’t understand how people end up in this state.”

While tourists have been targeted by small protests – in July, one group, Arran, stormed an open-top tour bus – Mr Bosch insisted anti-tourist sentiment was "very marginal".

His message to international visitors was to "collaborate with us" on keeping Barcelona "a success story", he said. "If we don’t manage it well, if it gets out of hand, we are going to ruin this".

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