News and views from a week in the Algarve
The Algarve’s Environment Agency, led by ‘demolition man’ Sebastião Teixeira, finalised and submitted its plan for remodelling the region’s coastline between Odeceixe and Vilamoura.
The Agency had worked closely with those mayors whose coastal areas would be affected to determine a balanced programme of upgrades and interventions that all were happy with.
Well, that would be the ideal way in which these things are decided but in Teixeira the mayors have been dealing with duplicity - the final plan bears little relationship with the version agreed with the mayors.
The mayors again have decided that complaining as an organisation, Comunidade Intermunicipal do Algarve (AMAL), has more weight than individual submissions and its current chairman, Tavira mayor Jorge Botelho, has demanded an urgent meeting with Teixeira’s boss João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of the Environment.
Fernades is likely to back his underling and the residents of the charming village of Monte Clérigo, Vila do Bispo, as one example, can expect the removal of dozens of their houses and half a toilet block in a scheme that deviously seeks to expand parking area.
The suspicion is that the clearances and increase in parking facilities is to cater for a 311 hectare development planned on nearby ‘protected’ countryside within the national park to include “three hotels, 200 homes, 200 apartments, a heliport and a golf course,” according to an estate agency listing.
This is State deviousness as it finest. The proposed tourist development has not yet been authorised but those involved in the land deal know it will go through using the discredited Project of National Interest route, the method by which many wholly inappropriate developments have been authorised on protected land.
The Environment Agency is dedicated to clearing away inconveniently placed local houses yet these do not interfere with the sea, sand dunes, cause coastal erosion or commit any of the other heinous crimes imagined by Teixeira.
Demolition Man has been out of control since the start of the destruction of private property on the Ria Formosa islands where his target of bulldozing 800 properties seems likely to be met unless the increasingly sneaky Socialist government stops the senseless displacement of fishing families just because they are in the way of ‘quality tourism’ projects.
The mayors group AMAL has a good chance of being heard by the minister, but he is just another suit in the chain of command that leads to a government that has fully embraced the political tactic of saying one thing and doing another.
A Secretary of State was in the Algarve last week, addressing Rotary Club of Praia da Rocha members with an upbeat speech on all things maritime.
José Apolinário is in charge of fisheries and said the nation imports too much cod, so needs to export more fish to compensate. The way to do this, the audience was informed, is not by renegotiating fishing licence tonnage with Europe so Portugal’s once proud fishing fleet yet again can set off across her vast ocean territories to harvest their bounty, but by growing more fish in offshore farms.
Nothing wrong with that, much of the fish sold in our ‘traditional’ markets is farmed, but did Apolinário listen to the fishermen’s observations on the subject? I think not as the sectioning off of large areas off the Algarve’s coastline as fish farm exclusion zones already has restricted traditional fishing grounds to the point that affects the catch.
Any collateral damage can be ignored in this socialist utopia where the government’s lack of experience even after nearly a year in power is showing through across many departments.
Apolinário’s comment about balancing an Algarve-based oil industry with tourism was especially obtuse as neither he, nor anyone else, can possibly know how this could be done.
The Algarve’s anti-oil and gas movement suffered a body blow on Thursday when the prime minister informed parliament that the Attorney General’s Office has determined that the Portfuel contracts, granting exploration and extraction rights across much of the region, were just fine.
These are the contracts signed by a company that did not fulfil many of the criteria for being awarded the contracts. This also is a company owned by the well-connected multi-millionaire Sousa Cintra and enormous legal leeway seems to have been afforded him.
The political aspects of this fight, to keep the Algarve’s tourism industry free of onshore and offshore oil drilling and extraction, were exposed at a meeting in Olhão last week, after which a knowledgeable reader commented,
“While the Algarve's mayors are, at least for the time being, opposed to drilling and fracking in this region, the majority of the Algarve's MPs are not. …the left Bloc's MP was the only one to be in favour of the abolition of the law on which the concessions for oil and gas exploration are based. PS, PCP, PSD and CDS-PP were all in favour of "finding out what's in the ground" - although the contracts clearly state that that knowledge will remain the oil companies' property and won't have to be shared with anyone, be it the Portuguese government or anyone else.”
Contributor ‘Christian’ continues: “The point of that meeting in Olhão was to launch a new 'citizen's legislative initiative' to alter (rather than abolish) that awful law of 1994. It's a bit like trying to a turn the Inquisition's Torture Manual into a Charter of Human Rights. All of the anti-oil movements as well as the mayors are against any attempts to change the law and in favour of its abolition. The initiative for the alteration of the law comes out of a programme that is financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, i.e. dirty oil money - Honi soit qui mal y pense..”
I conclude that things are going to get nastier in the defence of the Algarve. The government’s stated aim that the licences are valid and drilling must go ahead, so a grateful nation can see what wealth lies below our land and oceans, is nonsensical.
The licence terms cover extraction as well as exploration and the oil companies would not have started spending millions on exploration if they were not certain of being able to pump the stuff out of the ground when they find it.
The Algarve’s tourism industry is against the region stealthily being developed into an oil and gas production zone with possible drops in tourism income and in property prices. But it is being developed stealthily and those MPs who are meant to represent residents’ views already are following the party line and allying themselves with the Algarve as an oil producing region.
It seems the mayors group AMAL soon may turn from a talking shop into a battle command centre.
If Barcelona’s city hall has staff capable of using a computer, why aren’t Portugal’s authorities capable of some basic IT skills and identifying unlicensed rental properties and their tax evading owners?
Lack of will power I suspect as the short-term rental market in Portugal certainly is not subject to the kind of lucrative scrutiny that the nation’s motorists endure.
The Barcelona city council ordered the closure of 615 rental properties that did not have licences. Then it sent fines to the website owners, the maximum fine being €600,000.
Not one of the array of State agencies involved in policing the Alojamento Local scheme is prepared to do anything to enforce the rules, hence the scheme has failed. It is not difficult for the vast majority of properties to accord to the AL rules and the resulting tax rate is low, but if nobody is enforcing the rules, why have them at all?
We await a workable version of the AL regulations, as promised by the Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Godinho in January this year.
The current rules have been described variously as ‘bureaucratic, uninspiring, overly-complicated, obtuse, multi-agency, expensive to comply with, divisive and off-putting.’
This may give the politician an idea as to why the majority of property owners have ignored the law, an especially attractive option as State claims of ‘intense policing’ have been proved to be a big lie.
The good denizens of Vila Real de Santo António are to be treated to three boutique hotels as the council aims to increase accommodation capacity in the city centre. The refit taking place at the iconic Hotel Guadiana already is well underway and three additional historic buildings are on offer from the council which wants more hipster hotels.
Hopefully this time around those making bids will do a little more preparation as an earlier bidding round ended in disappointment.
VRSA was founded after the 1755 earthquake and developed under the eye of the Marquês de Pombal as a riverside ‘new town’. When completed around 1774, no one much wanted to live there so the Marquês simply set light to fishing huts in Monte Gordo to persuade locals to move along the coast.
Maybe demolition man Sebastião Teixeira is a descendant of the Marquês de Pombal - plus ça change…
Downtown Faro is an area long overlooked by tourists despite the best intentions of a series of mayors, none of whom have cracked the market. The current mayor, Rogério ‘U-turn’ Bacalhau, has overseen three projects that will help the city develop.
First, there was a fiscal incentive for property owners to refurbish empty or sub-standard property to provide reasonably priced accommodation - with an eye to luring students away from Gambelas campus into town and for the Airbnb type of short-term rentals.
Then, in July 2015, a 5,000m2 site within the walled city was sold to developer João Rodrigues with permission to create a pousada-grade hotel from the ruin of the Magistério Primário.
Next came the knock-out blow, a proposal to expand the harbour’s meagre mooring facilities to the other side of the railway line, encroaching into the Ria Formosa natural lagoon area to create hundreds of moorings and an area of cafés and restaurants.
This bold plan was made available to the residents of Faro as part of a public consultation process. Three responses were sent in to the regional development agency handling the process so either the publicity for the plan was non-existent, or there is a general mood of approval, or of indifference.
When the council approves the plan and developers start to get involved, the plans of course will have to be altered to include the inevitable sea view apartments “without which the project is simply not viable.” I close my eyes and already can hear the developer’s persuasive arguments for obtaining permission for additional residential accommodation.
In the fair country of Silves, the Oceânico golf development near Alcantarilha has struggled through the recession, its founders have moved on, Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency took over the bank loans in 2012 and the business ticked over through the dark years.
The media was abuzz last week as the company’s five golf courses over in Vilamoura had been sold to KAY CC Portugal, a partnership between investor Keith Cousins and the Dom Pedro Hotels Group.
This deal was said to be worth €70 million, somewhat less than the deal in March 2007 when the Oceânico Group announced it has bought the golf courses from André Jordan in a deal worth €125 million.
While on the subject of golf, it was good to see that Espiche Golf has been investing in its fairways and infrastructure.
This golf facility out west near Praia da Luz already has an award-winning clubhouse but the owners took decades to surmount the huge barriers put in their path by a multitude of official bodies and organisations which clearly did not wish to see the golf course built.
The tenacity shown by its founders has been extraordinary and I am pleased to see the business expanding and doing well.
Late news came in on Friday evening that the State’s Departamento Central de Investigação e Ação Penal (DCIAP) also is investigating Caixa Geral de Depósitos in addition to the parliamentary inquiry which also is looking at suspicious loans and past mismanagement.
Just in case the MPs on the committee decide that another broad whitewash is the order of the day, the State’s investigators are looking at the way those in charge of the publically owned bank decided that public service was self-service, a double whitewash is unlikely and the public may be furnished with the truth behind this rotten business.
The thought of recapitalising this massive bank with more taxpayers’ money is deeply troubling as we do not know extent of the non-performing loans or the loans that currently are being paid off but suddenly may not be after the bank again becomes flush with our funds.
I get the distinct feeling the public yet again is about to be sold a pup with the Caixa Geral refinancing deal as proposed. It all seems horribly similar to the Banco Espírito Santo ‘resolution’ that was hastily put together and which later left bidders for the business facing ‘unquantifiable liabilities.’
Novo Banco is still for sale and bids are being evaluated. The Bank of Portugal needs €4.9 billion for the business if it is to repay the money used to set up and fund the business. Some in the know say that current bids are in the €30-€40 million range - expect fireworks when the bids shortly are revealed.
The failed banking sector in Portugal already has cost the public €14 billion since 2008, the last thing it needs now is good money following bad in a botched Caixa Geral rescue.
Spanish readers, look away now. The row over Gibraltar has never really gone away, it simmers and occasionally erupts, usually stirred up by politicians on the make, to hide other bad news in Spain or as a result of another border guard go-slow.
Using the catch-all subject of Britain’s proposed Brexit, the King of Spain, no less, saw it as part of his remit to demand of Her Majesty’s Government, “to end the colonial anachronism of Gibraltar with an agreed solution between both countries to restore the territorial integrity of Spain and bring benefits to the people of Gibraltar and the Spanish area of Campo de Gibraltar."
This is wrong on so many levels: the Gibraltarian spokesman commented,
"This is not 1704, when Britain conquered Gibraltar, or 1713 when Spain ceded it by Treaty for ever. This is 2016 when what matters most is the right of a people, however small, to determine their own future. It is regrettable that the mentality in official circles in Spain remains stuck in the eighteenth century."
Well put Sir!
For news you may have missed during the week, CLICK HERE
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Until next week
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