Albufeira councillors fined €25-a-day until “illegal” Olhos de Âgua apartment block is bulldozed

It is the latest planning disgrace to hit the Algarve, but this one is seeing an entire council executive that had nothing to do with it each fined €25 a day.

Diário de Notícias leads with an exposé today that claims an entire apartment building built over a decade ago in upmarket Olhos de Âgua, Albufeira – as well as the top-floor of another building right alongside – must come down by order of Loulé’s administrative court.

Until the demolitions take place, PSD councillors are being fined “out of their own pockets” to the tune of €25 every day.

As mayor Carlos Silva e Sousa who took over from the mayor who gave the green light to the project told the paper: “I have been caught in the middle of a judicial decision, and to abide by it, I have to pay around €750 a month”.

Ironically, the man under whose mandate the building went ahead is Desidério Silva, currently head of the Algarve’s tourism board.

Desidério, as he is known locally, enjoyed three mandates as mayor of Albufeira – leaving the borough before the end of the last in what opposition councillors claimed at the time was “organisational chaos”.

Earlier this year he was in court in Portimão over alleged crimes of prevarication and falsification of documents relating to another property (click here). He told journalists camped outside Portimão court at the time that he did not commit any crimes, and that his “conscience was clear”.

This is an almost verbatim explanation to the one Desidério Silva gave DN journalist Miguel Ferreira who reports that 28 homes – some of which cost as much as €150,000 – are now under threat of demolition.

As Andreia Guerreiro – one of the many householders who faces losing their only home – explained, residents have been caught completely unawares.

“We were never informed of this court case”, she told DN. “We only received notification from the council on Tuesday to say our (habitation) licences had expired two years ago. Why is it that we never received this information before? And why did we have to go on paying IMI (rates)?” she queried.

On a much more emotional level, Andreia Guerreiro explained that she had a 40-year mortgage on the apartment she shares with her partner and six-year-old child.

“I have paid 10 years”, she told the paper. “There are 30 more to go, and I have been told that even if my home is demolished, I will have to keep paying…”

The desperate situation has spurred householders into joining forces and hiring a lawyer to move forwards with a judicial embargo (providência cautelar).

As DN explains, there is a legal precedent that stands in residents’ favour.

In Viana do Castelo, the 13-storey Prédio Coutinho was ordered to be demolished in 1975, two years after it was built and inhabited by 300 people. Householders banded together to fight the order and their fight was eventually upheld by the Constitutional Court.

As DN explains, the building is still standing today.

Nonetheless, this story is a horror of planning slips and mishaps, with Mayor Sousa e Silva affirming: “Demolition must go ahead. I already have some estimates for the work which come to around €500,000.

Questioned as to “eventual compensation” for the many householders and families involved, he told DN: “It will be a very large amount, and we do not have the money to cover it in the council budget”.

The property owners involved will have “to look out for their own rights”, he stressed.

How did 28 apartments get the green light from a council which has not penalised the people in charge?

The question on everyone’s minds is “how could this have happened?” How could a council sanction the illegal construction of 28 apartments that are then ordered to be demolished? And how could the people in power at the time not be the ones to be fined over the controversy?

DN’s Miguel Ferreira has filled in a lot of these questions. His story explains that the Roja Pé complex was originally designed to involve four buildings and a leisure area. There then came “a new request” to forget the leisure area and instead construct another building.

As the foundations of this fifth building began taking shape, local residents “interceded”, complaining to planning authority IGAT which led to an embargo on the work being put in place. This “situation was maintained for two years”, DN explains, “after which time the embargo was lifted”.

“A homeowner who did not want to be identified told DN that the builder had negotiated with the people who complained, to the effect that he would give them each an apartment if they looked the other way”.

“The council sanctioned the construction projects and then in 2005 it gave the green light to the (constructor’s) requests to alter the initial plans.

“The developer wanted and managed to construct more apartments”, explains the newspaper.

“The matter appeared to be closed”, it continued, “but the Public Ministry took the developer to Loulé Administrative and Fiscal court, contesting the legality of the way the council had proceeded.

“Sentencing for the case was passed in 2011, and enforced in 2013. The court annulled the proceedings that allowed alterations to the initial building licence (alvará)” and it also outlawed the developer’s “excessive” construction of an extra floor on the 4th apartment block.

“What is required now is that one block with 16 apartments and the top floor of the other block, with more than 12 apartments, are demolished”, DN stresses. “And for each day that the sentence is not complied with, the president and councillors pay, each one, 25 euros from their pockets”.

DN concludes that this sentence was “legally enforced” two years ago, but that the municipality only withdrew the properties’ habitation licences.

“The court demands that its full decision is complied with. And it decided that the current members of the council should pay this fine” until it is, DN explained.
Not surprisingly, residents are nonplussed.

As Céu Santos told the paper: “My apartment is not on the demolition list but how can all the top floor of our block be demolished without affecting the structure of the rest of the building?”
These are questions that the Resident will hope to find answers for in the coming week.

For now, we can only fill in some of the ‘blanks’ by adding that Desidério Silva left his job as Mayor of Albufeira after Loulé’s court decision, but before that decision was categorically “enforced” in 2013.

His departure before the end of his third mandate at the helm of the council created controversy, not least because of the “organisational chaos” that remained behind him.
His election to the head of the Algarve tourism board saw only 18 of the 32 members voting in his favour.

As Lusa news agency reported at the time, five voted against him and seven left their voting slips blank.

Two members of the board (representing Portugal’s second largest trade union and Lagos council) failed altogether to turn up for the vote, added Lusa.

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