The battle of the islands has moved to Armona where a high profile case leaves the Olhão mayor exposed and a couple from the UK out of pocket, close to despair and determed to warn foreigners thinking of investing in Portugal.
Paul Roseby and James Tod bought two adjoining plots on Armona, applied to the council for planning consent and were awarded a building licence for their dream home on this dreamy Ria Formosa island.
Olhão council has jurisdiction over Armona but the council's powers are not total nor does its jurisdiction cover the whole island area.
The powers held by the council go back to a deal signed in 1983, when the State gave the municipality management powers over the island with the council empowered to issue building permits in accordance with the national planning laws.
As a result, around 850 houses were built quite legally, but 140 further properties were allowed to be built outside the council’s concession area.
All of these properties are considered legal by the council but illegal by the Portuguese Environmental Agency which cites the laws covering the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the Coastal Land Management Plan, National Ecological Reserve and Maritime Public Domain.
The Britons, both involved at a high level in the arts in London, have been notified that their house, now nearly completed, must be removed despite their having received planning permission and a building licence in January 2016 from Olhão council which seems to have issued licences for a property in an area of Armona where it has no jurisdiction under the 1983 agreement.
The Portuguese Environmental Agency demolition order was countered with an injunction lodged in the Administrative and Fiscal Court in Loulé to suspend the possession and demolition process.
Then there is the National Maritime Authority which is empowered to issue a fine for the illegal work between €10,000 and €100,000 and also an Intervention and Requalification Project for Armona which covers legal buildings, but not the 140 illegal ones - a point rejected by Olhão’s mayor.
Regrettably this plan involves the discredited Polis Litoral Ria Formosa company which was meant to "guarantee conditions of use and habitability" for Armona’s settlement but has done nothing in this regard while occupying its energies in demolishing properties on Culatra and Farol - 370 so far, and counting.
Olhão’s mayor, António Pina, was questioned by Público and said his council had not requested the opinions of the Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the Portuguese Environment Agency nor the Commission for the Development of the Algarve "because it is a concession that is governed by the rules of the detail Occupation and Recovery Plan Of the Urban-Tourist Zone of Armona.”
António Pina said the issuance of the license was supported by the technical opinions of his urban planning department (the head of which already is facing a corruption charge on another matter CLICK HERE) and “reinforced in a ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court."
No so, say the other bodies involved, which claim the council needed their prior consent.
The mayor of Olhão said to Público that he hopes to have “the understanding” of the Minister of the Environment, Pedro Matos Fernandes, “to defend the interests of the two citizens” who have been affected. But what about the other 139 properties that must at some point be removed as the Ministry of the Envoronment's island clearance programme continues?
One thing is for sure, the British couple are angered and disillusioned at the Portuguese system which allows one thing and does another.
It was not up to Paul Roseby and James Tod to study Portugal's regional and local planning laws and the issuance of a license to build should have remained a joyful moment along the journey to a dream come true.
Instead they are locked in a brutal planning dispute, seriously out of pocket and wondering how a EU country in the 21st century can have such a complexity of rules that has made them both scapegoat and guinea-pig.
'Caveat emptor'in this case does not apply - the Britons took every possible care to do things legally yet have been left with an investment that may well have to be written off and with fines for taking, what they had been assured by the council, was the correct course of action.
When we had our house built, we relied on an estate agent and a lawyer, because we understood neither the language nor the law. Fortunately, our lawyer was a man of honour, and to an extent he protected us against an unscrupulous and inefficient builder. The lawyer employed by these two Britons should have protected them against an inappropriate interpretation of the law by the Câmara.
Whom do you mean by "they"? The owners? Olhão câmara? The architect? It's hardy the owners' responsibility to have read building reg's if they have been granted an apparently valid licence.
Jealous springs to mind !
I hope these guys have the resources to really fight this; Our elected politicians are obviously useless. It can only be fought in the courts.
'pre-existing conditions' were two houses.
They failed to read any environmental building regulations which are plainly written to protect Ria Formosa. Olhao council is not above national laws. Building on sand dunes close to the water was a folly decision and the owners should be made to pay for the rubble removal and the sceptic tank and restore the footprint to pre-existing conditions.
Ask these house holders if they think we all live in a democracy. STATE THEFT COMES TO MIND..
This scenario is reminiscent of Spain's notorious 'land grab' fiasco a few years ago, where permission to build was granted by dodgy mayors (no doubt in return for healthy backhanders from developers) only later to be overturned by government officials. In many cases depriving people of not just their retirement home, but their life savings with it.
This put me off ever considering buying property in Spain and once word of this case gets out I am sure it will make others think twice before investing in Portugal.
The guys appear to have done everything by the book. If Olhão câmara erroneously granted the building licence they should be sued for and held liable for all costs and fines. Good luck with that one.