Vale do Freixo developer threatens 'to take investment money elsewhere'

VeleFreixoUnited Investments Portugal, owners of the Pine Cliffs Resort  and the Sheraton Cascais, has hit an environmental brick wall over its Vale do Freixo development proposal near Querença in the barrocal countryside.

The European Union did state that after the Quinta da Ombria development was given permission, "there should be no similar developments in the same area." Vale do Freixo is just down the road.

Both planned resorts also happen to sit on top of the important Quenença aquifer with Vale do Freixo in a Natura2000 area of special protection.

The 'tourist village' and golf course project is being delayed by the Institute for Nature Conservation which at first agreed the Vale do Freixo development, with certain provisos, but now has gone off the idea of covering this part of the Algarve's wild countryside with another tourist development.

United Investments today officially ran out of patience and, through Jornal de Negócios, it's director for Portugal said he was fed up with waiting and that there are plenty of other investments that the company could be making outside Portugal. The company claims the government has been obstructive and dilatory.

The Government says the Vale do Freixo development it is in the hands of Loulé council. The council says the application if being assessed by the ICFN. Meanwhile the development has yet to get off the ground and the owner's director has gone public with his frustrations.

In February 2016, Célia Ramos, the Secretary of State for Spatial Planning and Conservation of Nature said she would follow the Vale do Freixo project "with caution" and was concerned about the 380 hectares of countryside that was to be used for two hotels, a golf course, eight tourist villages, and a total of 1,700 beds despite the area lying in a Natura2000 area and even though the project had obtained a Project of National Importance status (PIN).

The Left Bloc MP, João Vasconcelos, commented in 2016 that "the development is in the Natura2000 network, in an area of ​​environmental protection and will have a direct affect on several protected habitats, which raises strong concerns."

The Director General of United Investments Portugal, Carlos Leal, is now threatening to drop the €200 million investment but it is not known how Sheikh Talal Al-Bahar, the owner of the company, is treating the stalled project.

Leal, surprisingly for a Portuguese property development director, says he does not understand the bureaucratic blockades that are affecting the licensing process.

"We are not going to invest more money in this project, either we get an answer, a justification for the project not being approved, or we close the door and we will invest in another country. We cannot do this indefinitely," says Leal who claimed there had been resistance from the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests regarding the density of construction of this project, but that the institute has not said why, nor has it defined the criteria used.

The project was given its highly controversial PIN status in 2012 due mainly to pressure from the oleaginous former Foreign Minister, Paulo Portas. Leal clearly expected this to be enough to get the project off the ground in 2014.

“This lack of definition could jeopardise our investment plan in Portugal. Why should we invest in a country where our investment is not welcome? It does not make sense. There are other countries that give us a lot more return, where we are not seen as the bad guys who are compromising the environment,” said Leal, clearly miffed at not getting his own way and irritated at the legitimate concerns from the ICNF, Almargem, local MPs, the public and Brussels - which has been following the project with interest.

Leal said he just wants an answer, one way or another, otherwise, "the land will be abandoned... and maybe one day there will be another government, investing [in the project], but we will not invest, not another cent." All music to the ears of environmentalists.

Leal has misread the mood of the moment which reflects a shift away from these mega-tourism projects, or quaintly pitched ‘tourist villages,’ each promising to be ‘unique’ and ‘sustainable’ while in fact being neither.

The Ministry of the Environment commented that the Vale do Freixo process is in the hands of the municipality of Loulé and that the amended Urbanisation Plan for Vale do Freixo is being discussed with 'interested parties.'

One of these interested parties is the ICNF, where the negotiation "has not been successful" because the plan cannot demonstrate how it can be built without having a detrimental impact on this Site of Community Importance.

As for the PIN classification that Vale do Freixo miraculously was awarded, the president of Almargem, João Santos, says this was nothing more than "a blatant political whitewash, justified by the alleged economic, technological and 'green' character of the enterprise."

Santos said long ago that the "cumulative impacts" of the Vale do Freixo and Quinta da Ombria are clear and he is concerned about a return to "real estate fever" to the Algarve’s barrocal hillsides as the country emerges from recession and again money starts to flow.

Almargem has been keeping Brussels up to date as to what is going on at Vale do Freixo while reinforcing its opinion of the irreparable damage that will be caused to the environment and the threat to the region's water supply should the developers get the go-ahead.

Almargem comments: ‘At stake is the construction of two hotels, eight tourist villages (totaling 1,700 beds) and other complementary facilities such as a golf course, all on a property of 380 hectares located inside the Barrocal, a classified area of c​ommunity importance included in the Natura Network 2000. This project would directly affect the Querença-Silves aquifer, a key reason for the EU's strong reserves over the neighbouring Quinta da Ombria project, in addition to threatening several habitats protected by EU and national legislation. Other negative aspects to consider are the affects within the Local Protected Landscape of Rocha da Pena and the close proximity (only about 100 meters) to the most important bat cave shelter in the Algarve, classified as of national importance, which houses populations of several species of bat that are considered to be endangered and therefore strictly protected.

Maybe, just maybe, the environmental protection afforded the vale do Freixo area will override the discredited PIN status and trump the desire of United Investments Portugal Empreendimentos Turisticos S.A.'s shareholders to make profits from destroying areas of highly protected countryside, the sort of areas people come here to visit.



Pin It