It is five in the afternoon and in Navalafuente they are already celebrating. Children chase each other and shoot each other with water pistols, parents drink ice-cold bottles of beer and workers complete a stage for 400 spectators to celebrate the day of Saint Bartholomew, patron saint of the town. And, although they do not know it, the 1,511 inhabitants of this small town also have another reason to celebrate: Navalafuente has become the second municipality that absorbs the most population in proportion to the entire Community of Madrid.

“The number of people who call us and ask about houses in the town is brutal,” he explains. Miguel Mendez Martiañez, mayor of Navalafuente, leaning on the Los Angeles bar counter while finishing his coffee. According to figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), this town now has 25% more neighbors than five years ago. Begoña de la Fuente, responsible for the register, confirms it. “For 10 years more people have been coming to the towns of the northern highlands, but I would say that since 2019 it is crazy.” Young people are getting married and staying in our town! ”

Between 2015 and 2020, the Community of Madrid grew by 5.3%: the region gained more than 300,000 inhabitants in that period. Almost all the municipalities of the community have added population, but there are three towns in the Sierra Norte that make up the growth ranking: Robregordo, Navalafuente and El Berrueco. The first, although it has grown by 35%, is among the least populated in the community, with 65 inhabitants, compared to 48 in 2015.

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The data is as of January 1, 2020, so the ‘pandemic effect’ is not reflected in these population variations, but according to four contacted municipalities of the northern sierra, this dynamic has only increased. The figures collected do show, on the other hand, that there are not a few towns in the northern highlands that have been here for at least five years. gaining inhabitants little by little.

“Young people of 30 or 40 years have come to live to work in Alcobendas or San Sebastián de los Reyes because here the houses are cheaper, you live in nature and, depending on the town of the northern mountains of Madrid, you are not that far in car, “he explains Mendez Martianez, who insists that these journeys do not exceed 20 or 25 minutes by car.They call us almost every week asking for vacant houses, but right now there aren’t any for sale. When you put one on, it doesn’t last 15 days. ”

Sierra Pobre vs. Sierra Rica

This area of ​​the Sierra Norte de Madrid was formerly known as the Sierra Pobre. The name was given in contrast to the Sierra Rica, the western part of the mountain range where municipalities such as Moralzarzal, Navacerrada or El Escorial, with a much higher GDP per capita. The poor communications between the Sierra Norte and the capital, an increasingly aging population and its lack of economic opportunities envisaged a black future for the region, which for decades had lost inhabitants.

However, in recent years, with the economic activation of the business center in the north of Madrid, the days that this mountain range made the nickname of poor its own. This occurs especially in the towns located in the northeast, near the Burgos highway and places of work such as Alcobendas, San Sebastián de los Reyes or San Agustín de Guadalix. On the contrary, as can be seen on the map, the western region of the sierra presents the opposite panorama, especially due to the difficulty of transportation to reach the Lozoya area.

“It would be poor in the past, but now, as house prices are, This cannot be called Sierra Pobre or in jest“says Óscar, a waiter originally from the Malasaña neighborhood who has just moved to Navalafuente.” I have always loved the rhythm of the city of Madrid, but I am already 45 years old and I wanted a different environment. This site is fantastic because it has nature but also many services. I don’t usually look to the future much, but I hope I end my days here. ”

They share the same vision from Berrueco, where prices have been rising as people came to live. “The rise in population has not been exclusively due to confinement, we have gone little by little,” he explains. Jose Ignacio Martin Montero, the deputy mayor of the town, which has 777 registered inhabitants and has also grown 25% in the last five years. “More and more middle-aged families come here to live and telework because it is a luxury, we have services of a town with twice the number of inhabitants, although as a dormitory town Berrueco does not work so well because it is further away.”

“Before everyone went to Guadarrama or Cercedilla, but now the Sierra del Rincón has become fashionable”

On the other hand, the data on the number of people who have moved to towns in 2020 mark a change in trend: small municipalities received more population than capitals in the first pandemic year. Robregordo, for example, tripled its average number of new arrivals in the last five years: from five new residents a year to 16. Also taking into account those who left, its balance last year was more than double the usual.

Also, in a few weeks she will have a new neighbor. Mercedes is about to open a rural house in Robregordo because she believes that, after the pandemic, Madrid residents have rediscovered the northern highlands. “Before everyone went to Guadarrama or Cercedilla, but for a few years, little by little, the Sierra del Rincón [en el extremo nororiental de la Comunidad de Madrid] It has become fashionable“, says Mercedes, who is finalizing the details to open her business in an old Civil War stables in Robregordo.

Also in Navalafuente, the balance between arrivals and dismissed was positive and up to 60% higher than in the last five years. In the meantime, the number of moves to the capital was less than half of the average of the last five years. The data on the removals are from the Residential Variations Statistics, which only takes into account the number of registrations and cancellations in each municipality for reasons of displacement, but does not reflect other phenomena that affect the number of inhabitants, such as births and deaths .

The problem of the registry

But not all are good news. Although the towns in the eastern Sierra Norte are experiencing a sustained growth of inhabitants, they still continue to dragging problems of lack of basic services, difficulties with a good Internet connection —especially far from population centers— and few options to retain young people. That is why it is essential for them that their neighbors register.

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“For us it is very important that the people who live here register because the resources of a city council depend on their census population“, they affirm from the municipality of Lozoyuela-Navas-Sieteiglesias, another town that has also been receiving a constant flow of new inhabitants. In mid-2020 they made a campaign called “to be or not to be” to encourage their neighbors who had gone to live in the town after the first wave of the pandemic to register in Lozoyuela.

“And officially we are who we really are “, The document said, “We will have more resources and we will improve community services, because we will be able to qualify for higher subsidies and higher state and regional revenues.”

Months after the first confinement, the waste in Navalafuente had multiplied by four

In Navalafuente they face a similar situation. The mayor considers that they could be stopping entering 100,000 euros per year by the people who live in the town and are not registered. For them there is no magic formula to get people to register. “With a lot of patience and one by one”, affirms Begoña. Months after the first confinement, the waste in Navalafuente had multiplied by four. Neighbors continued to generate the same garbage, but a wave of Madrilenians had arrived who, after the first confinement, decided to settle in their second residence. The only problem was that, for the most part, they were not registered in the town.

“The expenses increased so much that we have had to develop a rate of 40 or 50 euros to deal with all the people who have come to live here,” concludes the town councilor. “Little by little we are convincing them to register, because living here is wonderful and if there are more of us, we all win. ”

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