The mayor of Olhão, António Pina, aims to head off another approaching row between the town hall and the population by issuing a pre-emptive press release concering his plans for the iconic twin markets that define the city’s river front.
Pina’s claim that the "municipal markets are one of our top priorities" has done little allay fears that the functioning of the markets will be impeded by his plans to turn the main Av. 5 de Outubro into a one way system, remove parking to the south of the markets and restrict delivery area parking.
The mayor of Olhão guarantees that "everything that can be thought of and done for the markets will always be done in the sense of improving their working conditions and the surrounding spaces."
Due to picking up on some local "doubts and concerns,” Pina decided to write to his flock, correctly describing the markets as “a landmark of Olhão and one of our great priorities" and saying he is available to listen to ideas and suggestions.
The row started with the ‘participatory budget’ process when it appeared that the public wanted changes to the market areas. This was indeed a fortunate outcome as the votes registered and collected by the council seemed to back up its own ideas on turning the market area into one, more tourist friendly but less functional for those who work there.
The main change is the blocking of all traffic along the riverside of the markets: good for the cafe owners but not good at all for deliveries which will be squeezed into small parking areas at each end of the two buildings or trying to park in what is to become a one way street.
The mayor has picked up on the fact that, despite 'public partipatory' votes encouraging the council’s scheme, it is impractical.
Pina is a seasoned politician and his communiqué to the masses has been pitched as further ‘consultation’ when prior to the public participation voting there had been no open discussion of these changes.
The mayor is backing down gradually and now says that the alteration will only be implemented "if it is compatible with municipal management plans," and as such, "the implications of this proposal for the functioning of the markets (such as access to freight and unloading by traders) will be taken into account, without undermining the Saturday street market," and that the "the parking necessary for the functioning of the markets will always be assured".
In his missive, the mayor adds that "the improvement interventions of Av. 5 de Outubro and the gardens are aimed at solving some problems that we have detected and that have been transmitted to us by the population."
The local blog, Olhão Livre, for long a thorn in Pina’s flesh, commented that ‘Local commerce, in this case our market place, dynamise the locality, because they promote consumption within the social circle of the city, help maintain local traditions, preserve the heritage and are centres of coexistence of the population.’
‘By focusing on the development of municipal markets, the development of the municipality is being promoted, contributing to the increase of new jobs, collecting municipal taxes and generating more investments.’
‘It is precisely because of all this that we can not see how, under a participatory budget, whose representativeness is doubtful (5% of the population of the municipality), the markets can be changed without reflecting on the short and medium-term consequences.’
‘The elimination of car traffic to the south of the markets and making the Av.5 de Outubro a one-way street are undoubtedly a first step towards ending the Olhão markets. Who is going to carry half a cow on his back? Who will carry a dozen boxes of oranges, sacks of potatoes or watermelons? Who will unload the crates of fish? A single lane road will serve for what?’
Pina, meanwhile, says “I've been trying to keep the locals informed about everything that happens in Olhão, either through direct contact at surgeries, or in the street, and also using community channels because we believe in transparent management. I verified, during visits to the markets, that there are doubts and some concerns about the future.”
The mayor, still shaken from his last public consultation where he saw representatives from a Lisbon firm of architects gently dismembered by an eloquent and persuasive audience, has set up another one at the end of this month (February 23rd at 6 pm in the Municipal Library of Olhão) to outline and discuss the town hall’s plans for the gardens to the east of the markets.
Expecting the worst, the mayor of Olhão will be delighted if he ever gets anything done that the locals actually see as either needed or aesthetically pleasing.