Court case over British Government’s Lisbon site continues

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Multinational property consultants CB Richard Ellis, which has been chosen to market and commercialise a disputed 1.7 hectare prime Lisbon development site, remained cautious last week over its concrete redevelopment plans.

The British Government, which is assuming ownership of the site at Estrela, plans to sell off the land to developers via CB Richard Ellis following a central Government directive in 2004 to sell surplus Government owned land abroad.

The problem for the Government is that a popular Lisbon English language theatre group is questioning the British Government’s right to do so under Portuguese law and is fighting the sell-off plans through the Portuguese law courts.

Not only do the Lisbon Players claim to have ‘squatters rights’ (direito de usucapião) because of their “continual, uninterrupted and unchallenged use of Estrela Hall” since 1947, but also because they believe that the British Protestant School Fund, whose trustees the Government claims hold Estrela Hall and other buildings on the site, has effectively been wound up.

When asked about future development plans for the site and interested parties, a public relations spokesperson for CB Richard Ellis told the Algarve Resident in an e-mail: “At this moment, no part of the Estrela site has been sold, and there is no negotiation currently under way regarding the sale of the property.” All further questions had to be addressed to the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Research on the CB Richard Ellis website threw up a news item dated 2008 when it was announced that CB Richard Ellis had been “mandated by Her Britannic Majesty’s Government as sole agent to manage the sale of properties in Estrela”.

The site is marketed in the press release as being “located in one of the most desirable residential areas of Lisbon, close to Estrela Gardens, the Estrela Basilica, and near the plot of St. Jorge’s Church and the English Cemetery” and that the buildings are located on a “3.500sqm site”.

‘With excellent development potential for residential use, subject to the attainment of the necessary licences, the property comprises five premises: the British Hospital, the Estrela Hall, the Jewish Cemetery, the Royal British Club, and the Parsonage, with a total construction area of approximately 4.200sqm,” it states.

It goes on to mention that “a data room has been prepared” within the offices of CB Richard Ellis in Lisbon, the contents of which are “available for inspection by prior appointment”. Interested purchasers were invited to submit offers no later than December 1 that year.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Lisbon reiterated that the case was legally extremely complex but stressed that the British Government did not stand to benefit financially from the sale given that all proceeds would go to the stakeholders.  

Jonathan Weightman, Aristic Director for the Lisbon Players, told the Algarve Resident that according to the information “we were given” the huge bulk of the proceeds from the sale of the Estrela site (over 65 per cent) was “earmarked for the British Protestant School Fund” and as “this entity apparently no longer exists” we assume that the money will be going to St. George’s Church. The Lisbon Players were offered 1.1 per cent of the proceeds!” The Fund, the Algarve Resident discovered, is no longer on the British Charity Commissioners website.

The Lisbon Players’ position “has always been and continues to be” that, as was the original intention of the British authorities, legal transfer of the building should be “made to the Lisbon Players Association”.

But a spokesperson for the British Embassy in Lisbon, after having discussed the matter with the British Consul, made it clear that the British Protestant School Fund still existed and was only “withdrawn from the Charity Commission website simply for administrative reasons.”

The British Protestant School Fund, which is looked after by the Trustees, Father Michael Bullock and Consul Simona Demuro, “exists and has an open bank account”. Furthermore the Trustees agreed that they would not make any decisions regarding this fund until “after the court proceedings had terminated”. The case continued on Monday. See next week’s report.

The Lisbon Players is currently running three one-act plays by Strindberg, Chekhov and Feydeau over the next three weeks following a four week run of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which opens on November 22.

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