Friday night’s public meeting to hear the professional opinions of architects, a professor of art history and the leader of a non-for-profit association of the proposed modernisation of Olhão’s Historic Centre was packed.
The Recreativa Progresso hall holds 200 people and there were few seats empty as the local majority mixed with foreign residents, the ‘adopted children of Olhão’, to hear the new municipal plan torn apart from every angle.
Olhão-based architect Filipe Monteiro said he disagreed with the modernisation plan and called for the centre of Olhão to be guaranteed safety from its own council by granting the zone the status of a safeguarded area with a specialist plan to preserve, not destroy, the many aspects that makes this city a favourite for a new style of tourism.
“Tourists with an appreciation of culture are welcome in Olhão, not the type of tourists from the 60s and 70s.” - indeed one foreign resident said the current plan amounted to little less than the ‘Vilamourisation of the city,” thus adding a new word to Portugal’s lexicon.
And so to ‘Pina’s Erection’ the 21-metre tower, also referred to as Olhão's Eiffel Tower,' planned to replace a 200-year-old historic building in the centre of a high-quality residential area. Mayor António Pina is said now to oppose this six storey structure, dubbed ‘Pina’s Erection in his honour, but the fact this building has survived a redrafting of the modernisation plans by Lisbon-based architects Baixa Atelier, means de facto that he and his council cabal approve, or the building would have been erased from the final version.
Discussions covered the removal of Olhão’s historic calçada paving from open spaces and shopping streets, the installation of more ‘Pingo Doce carpark’ lighting systems, the classification of the original Barreta and Levante parts of the city as containing ‘rural dwellings’ and the overall conviction that the city council has gone many steps too far in presenting a plan that air-brushes much of Olhão’s history and authenticity while failing to attend to its preservation and improvement.
Professor Horta Correia, Professor at the University of the Algarve, said he willingly accepted the invitation to address the concerned local audience to express his discontent about this plan which he called “an aberration”, adding that the biggest cultural thing the council could do is to retain the city centre, not modernise it.
The planned for Cultural Centre destined to block views and impose itself on an open square should rightly be referred to as an anti-Cultural building, as should the ‘cultural’ aspect of Pina’s Erection.
Fernando Grade from Almargem said the plan to fill in the views from the market buildings with a yachting marina is a travesty as this view is an essential part of Olhão’s appeal whether from the sea of from the esplanade. This displacement of artisan fishermen and their boats to the commercial port some distance away would further drain the life and activity of the area in preference to a static row of expensive yachts, many used but one month of the year.
Again, the council’s plans have not been thought through with Olhão’s unique appeal in mind and are a crude attempt to maximise short-term revenue while eroding the very reasons people visit the city.
During question time, the constant ramblings of a former PSD councilor Eduardo Cruz, one of the five who this week were told they are to face court in a corruption trial relating to planning permission abuse in 2004, (see: 'Olhão former mayor and four councillors prosecuted for corruption') prevented others from having time to express their own opinion.
Claims from Sr Cruz that “it’s all lies” relating to the seafront yachting marina development, failed accurately to take into account the mayor's actual comments when he committed to this scheme in his ‘vision for the future.’
Despite Sr Cruz, clearly under pressure with oreoparations for his corruption trial, many questions were asked and expressions of disgust at the plan for the historic centre from both foreign and Portuguese residents were loud and clear.
Nobody from the council made themselves known but in the aftermath, a council employee informed the algarvedailynews.com and the I Love Olhao facebook group's representative, that there is a meeting already set by the council at which Baixa Atelier, the modernist Lisbon-based architects, will be answering questions from the public.
Baixa Atelier were appointed by the discredited Polis Litoral Ria Formosa company which would have selected the lowest bid resulting from the public tender.
Scheduled for the 24th of November, just four days before the public consultation cut-off date, this mysterious meeting is another example of the council keeping its plans and activities well hidden from public view.
Incensed at last week’s Resident article – ‘Olhão residents mobilise over “horrific plan” tipped to destroy charm of historic town centre and repel investment’- mayor Pina contacted that vibrant, probing organ with the deeply ironic complaint that ‘nobody had asked his opinion.’
Pina's opinion and those of his fellow councillors is embodied in the plans now open for public consultation.
The public meeting showed that those present, apart from the discredited Sr Cruz, were in total opposition to the council’s plan for their historic city centre which needs safeguarding, not modernising with one feisty foreign resident stating that for her, "the time for talk is over" and should we now adopt the admirable French approach of dumping manure on the town hall steps.
If António Pina does not pay heed to public opinion, this manure ploy may indeed form one of a series of measures to make the council aware that it is responsible to its electorate and should spend less effort deliberately in avoiding them.
The modernisation plans are, theoretically, available in the council’s offices but in practice they are far from public view with enquirers given the traditional council run-around.
There are two forms that can be filled in and sent to the council by email or post.
CLICK HERE to print a blank 'comments and opinions' form which then should be completed with your comments in Portuguese
If you are not Portuguese, add your Residencia number or Passport number in the 'BI/CARTÃO CIDADÃO' field.
The Portuguese text translated into English, reads:
PLANO DE PORMENOR DA ZONA HISTORICA DE OLHAO
"This is not the correct planning instrument for changes to the Historic Centre of Olhao. It does not take into consideration the Camara’s existing definition and restrictions within the Historic Centre to protect the city’s Patrimonio.
In addition, I object to the following changes to the Historic Centre.
1. The removal of much of the historically important and traditional, patterned Calçada
2. The installation of inappropriate modern lighting and seating, etc.
3. The demolition of architecturally noteworthy buildings opposite the Camara to be replaced by a modern 20-metre-high viewing tower in a prime residential area.
4. Building a large new cultural centre at the edge of town, instead of reinstating the much-loved Recreativa building in the Av. da Republica."
For background, see: 'Plans to modernise Olhão's city centre released for public comment'
To see the architect Baixa Atelier's website, demonstrating its expertise in modern buildings and lack of experience in historic builings, see