Locals call it “ground zero”. Right in the very heart of Telde, the second city of Gran Canaria, there is an entire block of unfinished or abandoned concrete structures.

This, on a tourist island, is quite the sight, so dramatic, so bleak, that it is almost a visitor attraction in its own right. 

At the centre of this wasteland stands the town’s half-built Palace of Culture and the Arts, with its squinty walls and grand dome.

Conceived in the late 1990s, this was supposed to be one of the Canaries’ signature landmarks of the new Millennium, with its own 1600-seat theatre, one of the biggest in Europe.

Instead the structure has become, to quote Onda Guanche, a local radio station, "a colossus of bones, a pigeon coop for the homeless”. 

A colossus, they might have added, that just keeps burning. 

Does this story sound familiar? I think it should. Local and regional news outlets across the UK and Europe often have running sagas about blazing Ground Zeros of their own. 

Sometimes, as in Telde, it is something new and abandoned that goes up in flames. In other places the eyesore is a derelict historic building, maybe a local landmark that is just too important to bulldoze.

Think of Ayr’s Station Hotel, abandoned by an absentee owner and then plagued by firebugs. 

Or there is Aberdeen’s historic textile mills, the Broadford Works, Scotland’s biggest assembly of A-listed buildings. Still to find a purpose, this complex has suffered several fires. 

Then there is Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building, reduced to a shell by two major blazes. 

Last month The Herald documented the whole saga around how the Mack came to burn twice - and how hard it is proving to resurrect the Art Nouveau treasure from the ashes.

Reading the paper’s comprehensive coverage, I kept thinking about all those other fires, floods and other calamities that hit neglected buildings across our continent. 

Telde, I think, makes a great “case study”, as we reporters say. 

Why? Well, partly, this is because a fair few Herald readers will have seen the town’s Ground Zero. 

Read more:

Glasgow School of Art Fires: Find all articles in the series here

Ayr Station Hotel tower and north building to be demolished

The concrete hulk is not far, after all, from Gran Canaria’s big holiday airport, one of the biggest winter break destinations for Scots.

But Telde’s story should resonate for other reasons. Because it shares a lot of the challenges of Scottish towns. 

About the size of Paisley, it has some lovely spots, not least its historic San Francisco neighbourhood, with its whitewashed traditional homes and churches. This is the Instagramable Canaries.

Yet its commercial centre is clearly suffering. And not quite postcard perfect.

Big box stores, strip malls and online shopping means Telde’s pedestrianised main shopping drag - despite having a few lovely pitstops for coffee - is nothing like as busy as it once was. 

What is now Ground Zero was supposed to bring new life back in to the town. So what happened? How are things now? Is there a fix on the horizon? 

The Herald: Gran Canaria eyesore sadly abandonedGran Canaria eyesore sadly abandoned (Image: David Leask)

We are talking about a saga nearly three decades in the making. The new Palace of Culture was designed as the centrepiece of a whole new arts and shopping quarter, a magnet for visitors on an island that depends on tourism.

Back in the late 1990s local authorities produced what, by the standards of the time, were slick video animations of how the structure would look. 

Construction began in 2000, stopped in 2003, then resumed for a year between 2008 and 2009. The problem: money. 

By 2018 the palace had been invaded by squatters - okupas - as they are called in Spain. So local authorities walled off the complex. That did not work. By 2019 the palace once again had its “tenants”. 

Back in 2021 local authorities, led by a Canarian nationalist mayor Carmen Hernández, 

secured €5m from the Spanish government to finish the main’s structure’s facade, making it safe to to mothball. That money has still to materialise.

The Palace of Culture is just part of Ground Zero. There is also half-built three-story underground car park and supermarket complex. This now resembles an urban cave system. 

Read more: Glasgow could host 'scaled-back' 2026 Commonwealth Games


A multiplex cinema on the block was finished. But it closed in 2011 before being comprehensively looted, its floors now carpeted with glass.  The picture house has suffered all the same problems as as the Palace of Culture.

Imagine what it is like trying to run a business or live next to this mess? Unsafe eyesore abandoned buildings and developments can have a devastating impact on communities. 

Marcelo Fuentes knows this better than most. He runs a barber shop called The Korner right next to the abandoned building. Speaking to Canarian newspaper La Provincia last year he sounded resigned to ongoing anti-social behaviour.

“In the short term there is nothing we can do to stop people getting inside. They have already put up a pretty sold wall around the building and that was not enough.”

The entrepreneur, clearly picking his words carefully, stressed the palace was so big it provided space for what he called a “core of people of dubious reputation” and resulted in “multiple fires and assaults”. 

Fuentes was speaking in 2023 after a headline-grabbing blaze and a fight among young men. 

The Okupas - the squatters - have not enjoyed a good press and do not tend to figure in reporting themselves. Their voice is missing.

But pictures from inside the Ground Zero structures suggests conditions are appalling. There are numerous holes in the floors. And little protection from the elements.

Another Telde entrepreneur told La Provincia that the time had come to either finish the entire project - or knock it down. 

The project’s paralysis, said Mónica Muñoz, spokeswoman for the local businesses association, meant “the loss of opportunities to attract visitors from other towns and tourists…to a cultural area on what is today just blocks and filth”.

But Ground Zero in Telde - just like similar issues in Scotland and elsewhere - is not just a business problem. It is a political one too.

What to do with the abandoned structures was a key part of the last local elections. The centre-right Partido Popular’s candidate for Mayor even produced a campaign video on how he could spruce up the area around the Palace of Culture. 

It featured all those same artists’ impressions and animations we are used to seeing about new developments. 

And in the background remained the skeleton of the Palace of Culture. Ground zero was not quite cleared, even in political dreams.

In the end the last elections were won not by a mainstream political party but by a pressure group called Citizens for Change in Telde, or Ciuca for short, that has been demanding state intervention to fix the eyesore in their town’s heart. Its leader, Juan Antonio Peña, is now mayor and leads a coalition local council administration. His group took 40% of the local vote. Nationalists from former mayor Hernández's Nuevas Canarias party and her allies in the autonomist Canarian Coalition or CC were voted out.

Politicians at a regional level are paying heed to developments in Telde.

The President of the Canary Islands at the end of last year pledged support to spruce up the gutted multiplex and repurpose it as a cultural centre. Fernando Clavijo, of the CC, was pictured at the site in hard hat and long suit, making nice with the new local leadership.  The multiplex, he said, “exemplified the neglect that had existed in the municipality.”

Scotland’s cash-strapped local councils have similar problems to Spain’s. Is there a warning from Gran Canaria’s Ground Zero for local and national elected members here? Abandoned buildings, it seems, can be politically defining - and career-ending.