Contentious touristic developments ‘back on the scene’ for approval

Two hotly-opposed touristic development projects for coastal areas of the Algarve are ‘back on the scene’ as political leaders map the way forwards for economic recovery.

The Vilamoura Lakes project – as well as a three-hotel development for ‘the last window onto the sea’ between Portimão and Alvor – have both been given ‘positive promotion’ in regional and national news outlets.

The underlying message from both is that backers are confident they have performed all the necessary adjustments and will now get the permissions needed to kick-start these new investments.

The reformulated bids seem to have emerged at the ‘perfect time’: a moment when political leaders are focused on ‘bouncing back’ from the effects of the pandemic.

It’s a moment when all kinds of ‘contentious projects’ are likely to be viewed with ‘different eyes’ – particularly if they offer employment.

In the Barroso region for instance, Savannah Resources has just lodged its 6000 page Environmental Impact Assessment for the mining of lithium. CEO David Archer is quietly confident that it will tick all the necessary boxes.

He tells the Resident, “we have outlined a project that is efficient in the use of materials, energy and water. At the same time Mina do Barroso will bring jobs, families and prosperity to the region, and a new industry to Portugal”.

The two ‘touristic projects’ in the Algarve may not fall into the bracket of ‘new industry’ – but they offer new jobs at a time when so many have suddenly ‘disappeared’.

Rob Jenner, the CEO of Vilamoura World, told Expresso over the weekend that he believes the tweaked Cidade Lacustre (Lake City) project – with its reduced areas of construction and various ‘green’ alterations – will create 800 jobs in the first phase of construction, and 500 in the operation.

The €650 million plan “will be a great project for Portugal and for attracting investment to the Algarve”, he said.

Beyond Cidade Lacustre – the lakes of which use pumped seawater – Vilamoura World (an autonomous adjunct of equity company Lone Star) is also planning a €150 million development of ‘sustainable living’ solar-powered townhouses, a new hotel – and a port for ‘super yachts’ designed to attract the world’s mega-rich.

Yes, these plans could be labelled overly-ambitious – but for a country desperate to reinvent itself they will be extremely attractive.

Jenner repeats that the strategy will “bring money to the Algarve and create jobs”.

The super-rich target market involves “people who will consume in the region”, he added – stressing the pandemic could be seen to have played into developers’ hands.

“Vilamoura is the ideal place to live and function via teleworking”, he said. “It is a small, safe environment, with low housing density”.

Settled permanently in the area, Jenner told Expresso his company is also focused on developing new projects to conserve freshwater so that “when the inevitable arrives, we are prepared”. He is not here simply to make a killing and move on, in other words.

It was an upbeat interview that skirted round the environmental arguments that the Algarve ‘doesn’t need any further coastal touristic development’.

Campaigners – spearheaded by eco-group Almargem – continue to condemn the project as an “environmental attack” and “colossal mistake”, very much like opponents to the plans to build three new 5-star hotels at Ponta João de Arens in Portimão – described as the last window onto the sea.

There, a consortium of investors have rejigged their planning bid and say the thought that it might now be stopped “hasn’t entered their heads”.

João Jacinto, one of the developers, has guaranteed the project is very low impact: “There will be some visibility from the road around the first hotel, closest to Prainha”, he told local reporters, “and for the last, near Praia do Alemão”. But the middle hotel “won’t be seen, from the road or the sea – even less from the beach. The buildings will be integrated into the landscape and have very little impact”.

Pressure too on local protected’ flora, namely Linaria algarviana, has been removed.

Jacinto says he hopes the ‘outrage’ heaped on the project by conservationists and local people will now ‘lower its tone’: “This really isn’t a confrontational plan. We want to create a set of high quality hotels in an area that is very rundown at this moment”.

The description perfectly describes another coastal stretch, again ‘earmarked for development’ but hotly-contested, that of ‘Praia Grande’, alongside Lagoa dos Salgados, in the borough of Silves.

For now, there have been no rumblings of renewed interest there. But for Vilamoura and João de Arens, 2020 does appear to hold some promise, notwithstanding the depth still of civic opposition.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com