The jury’s out over the pros and cons of a change in the law that has effectively given borough councils the power to (radically) reduce areas protected by REN classification.
Many mayors view their areas of Reserva Ecológica Nacional “as a constraint” of municipal development, explains Público in an article published over the weekend entitled “Alentejan coast gets licence to build”.
The paper explains that already REN classifications in the boroughs of Grândola and Alcácer do Sal have been “drastically reduced”, and the tendency is expected to be repeated throughout the country.
The trouble with doing away with REN is that it means environmentally sensitive areas could suddenly come up for grabs by those whose environmental awareness comes a long way down a scale dominated by financial returns.
Says João Branco, president of Quercus, the change in the law is nothing short of scandalous, designed to benefit property speculation, particularly when it comes to tourism.
And the folly, he tells Público, is that in deciding to reduce REN areas – in Grândola’s case by a shocking 76% – borough councils have not made “one single reference to ecological values”.
In other words, not only have “aquifers have been forgotten” but areas that serve to fill those aquifers, and other sites “vulnerable to pollution” have been completely ignored.
It is a recipe for disaster, Francisco Ferreira of ZERO environmental association affirms.
But then there are arguments to the contrary, favouring a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for areas passed over by ‘progress’.
The mayors of Alcácer and Grândola, for example, have long campaigned to be able to promote the kind of developments that will bring social and economic prosperity to their regions, says Público.
“They have based expectations on tourist resorts with residential areas and golf courses”.
Projects in the pipeline have proposed as many as 30,000 touristic beds in the two boroughs and countless thousands of jobs – all currently “awaiting better days” as a result of court actions successfully lodged by Quercus and GEOTA (the Portuguese association for the defence of the environment).
Thus, whether this new change in the law will signal a sudden opening of the floodgates on REN remains to be seen. Certainly, the commentaries on Público’s story are divided between thinking it will be the final death-knell for a country ravaged by laws that are never properly upheld, and those that think that with the right amount of supervision and developmental control, opening up empty areas could be just what struggling local communities need.