The Ministry of the Environment has decided that a property on Armona, one of the Algarve’s Ria Formosa islands, should never have been given planning permission by Olhão council and that the Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA) is correct in its decision to see the property demolished.
On March 18th, Olhão mayor, António Pina, denied that the building licence issued to the British couple was flawed and he called on the Minister of the Environment, Jorge Matos Fernandes, to understand the situation and halt the APA’s plan to take administrative possession of the seaside property, prior to having it torn down.
The APA is run by Sebastião Teixerira, the feared ‘demolition man,’ who made islanders’ lives a misery when he was head of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa. Last October Teixeira had to resign from Polis, or be sacked. It would not be out of character for him to pursue this 'test case' with the same zeal as he displayed when harassing the Ria Formosa islanders.
Local MPs, Cristóvão Norte and José Carlos Barros questioned the ministry on the legality of the house to see whether or not Olhão council has exceeded its powers when granting the building licence.
In response the ministry has confirmed that:
- The plot in question is out of the concession area controlled by Olhão council.
- The building is located in the public maritime area and the licence legally could have been granted only if the APA had agreed the land could be used for building.
- The plot in question is located in a designated ‘natural area of dunes’ which is off limits for building as defined in the coastal development plan between Vilamoura and Vila Real de Santo António.
- The plan for the development of the Ria Formosa natural park also prohibits construction in land it designates as "coastal area and lagoon."
The coastal plan is being redefined in response to the Great Islanders Struggle for property rights but it is not known whether this area of Armona will be up for discussion and redefinition.
If the house has to be removed, Olhão council may be judged to be responsible for costs and compensation for the owners.
‘Olhão council’ in this instance means ‘local ratepayers’ unless the council later counter-sues those responsible for granting building permission.
Paul Roseby and James Tod said in March that they now understand completely the "vicious circle of lies" that "trashes lives in the name of the environment."
If this action by the APA is successful, the agency may continue to pursue 140 additional properties that lie in the same area where there should not have been any building, according to the land use rules.
Roseby said this "invisible line" between legal and illegal villas was never explained when he and James Tod, purchased the site and were granted building permission.
"There's always been an assumption that as Armona came under the jurisdiction of Olhão council, the threat to our homes wasn't the same as on the other islands which are covered by Faro council," said Roseby, who added that owners on Armona "are starting to come together and discuss ways to garner support nationally and internationally," "We do not believe that the matter is environmental" and that the argument that the houses are insecure is not backed up by sound evidence.
Olhão’s mayor, Antonio Pina has yet to respond to the latest move from the Ministry of the Environment and much rests on his shoulders as he not only is the local mayor, and hence up for re-election this autumn, but now is a board member of Polis whose input into the redrafting of the coastal development plan could include a deal over these technically illegal Armona homes that Olhão council has licenced over the years.
If the British couple have to take the matter to court, they need to be prepared for a long wait.
A similar case, involving building permission granted by Silves Council, which later was deemed illegal due to land use rules, triggered a claim for damages that was lodged in Loulé Commercial Court in November 2015. This action still has no start date after three and a half years - other cases have been waiting significantly longer while claimants grow older, more bitter and a lot poorer.
Those having no court cases pending, may read of the delays in the justice system and agree it is a slow old process.
For those in Portugal waiting for their cases even to be listed for a first hearing, the effects can be devastating with building mortgage in default, additional capital wiped out, living standards reduce to poverty levels and an ever-increasing anger at a justice system that fails to protect those who the State’s agencies mislead and disadvantage.
The Armona property owned by Tod and Roseby is not a first home but, none-the-less, the couple made an investment in this country in good faith, followed what they were advised were the rules, and may have lost hundreds of thousands of euros due to Olhão council’s errors.