Portugal’s Prime Minster, António Costa, said the government and airports operator, ANA, will press ahead with the new airport at Montijo, hinting strongly that this will happen, whatever the Environmental Report concludes.
In a revelation that the government pays little attention to the environmental impact of its preferred projects, Costa said the government only awaits the environmental impact study before giving the green light to the 'Portela plus Montijo' project - Portela being the old name for Lisbon's Humberto Delgado airport, (pictured).
António Costa says he wants to act fast, before the national mood swings against the Montijo project and, in not very carefully guarded words, made it quite clear that the project will go ahead, whatever the environmental report concludes..
Costa was speaking at the opening session of the Portuguese Tourism Summit in Lisbon. In his keynote speech, the PM defended the strategy that Portugal needs to diversify supply, especially through developing the interior regions, and needs to increase tourism volume, thus rejecting any idea of dampening demand.
The president of the Portuguese Tourism Confederation, Francisco Calheiros, said there was a need to expand the airport capacity of the Greater Lisbon area.
Costa replied that, "We have to correct today the mistake that was made ten years ago that means we don’t already have the second airport we needed."
About a year ago, the Government signed an agreement with ANA that defined a strategic option, to keep operating Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport and go for growth with a new airport in Montijo, south of the Tejo but near enough to serve Lisbon.
According to António Costa, with the pace of growth in tourism demand, "there is no solution other than 'Portela plus Montijo' and very soon negotiations with ANA will be concluded."
"Although very important, we are only waiting for the decision on the environmental impact to make the Montijo decision absolutely irreversible. After the country has torn up decades of studies and alternatives to the site, we can not now waste time and, above all else, we can not allow time for the national consensus to be exhausted once again. That is why we have to decide, we must move forward and we must do it," said the prime minister.
Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina, spoke about the social balance that needs to be guaranteed in the capital in the face of increasing tourist demand, António Costa agreed with the mayor's position but rejected the idea of "prohibiting" an increase in tourism.
Costa wants tourism revenues to reach 10% of Gross Domestic Product, the average in the EU’s member countries, as Portugal currently is at 8%.
The first environmental impact study submitted by ANA was returned by the Portuguese Environment Agency with the request for much more information.
The new study will be ready for referral, but it will take some time before the public consultation process begins in around two months’ time.
Then it is necessary to wait for the Environmental Impact Statement. In the worst case scenario, environmentalists' complaints will force the government to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment that provides for the comparison of two competing scenarios.
This could delay the authorisation process through the year 2019, blowing the 2022 completion deadline which has been talked about by the Minister of Public Works, regulators, ANA and even the sector regulators.