João de Arens

Environmentalists celebrate as Portimão hotel project gets ‘thumbs down’

It’s the news environmentalists and local citizens were hoping for – a controversial project to build three hotels in “one of the last untouched coastal areas” in Portimão has received a resounding environmental ‘thumbs down’.

The news was confirmed by regional development commission CCDR Algarve on Wednesday.

The project’s environmental impact study was slapped with a negative assessement after the evaluation committee responsible for analysing the study decided that the plans were “in no condition” to be approved.

The assessment was based mainly on the impact that the project would have on the “biodiversity and landscape” of the popular João d’Arens coastal strip between Praia do Vau and Praia dos Três Irmãos.

The committee stressed that the project would involve the “destruction of nearly 3,000 hectares” in one of the few spots where the rare and threatened Linaria Algarviana (a species of plant native to the Algarve, belonging to the figwort family and included in the Natura 2020 network) – can be found. And the measures that were proposed by developers to “mitigate, prevent and compensate” the impact of the construction plans were far from convincing.

Making matters worse is the fact that the project would have an “irreversible impact on the scenic quality and structure of the area, likely compromising the identity of one of the areas where the Algarve’s original coastal landscape is still untouched,” said the committee.

The committee also took into account that the development is framed by a territorial plan which foresees that this coastal strip of Algarve could be subjected to even more development plans involving an extra 20,000 beds.

The project’s failure to receive a green light was immediatelly celebrated by thousands of people who had been protesting the plans for around two months.

“Together, we have contributed towards keeping the João d’Arens landscape as it is now in the future,” wrote one of the administrators of the ‘Última Janela Para o Mar’ group – one of the main ‘forces’ opposing the project – on Facebook.

The group organised several activities in Portimão to raise awareness about the project, gather signatures for a petition against the development plans and encourage people to take part in the project’s public consultation.

Environmental association Almargem had also openly criticised the project, calling it a “huge environmental mistake.”

The project was backed by two Portuguese property development societies and a Spanish hotel company. Astronow, MI Estoril Invest, Areia Feliz, Top Building and Prainha are the owners of the plots, with Top Building acting as the project’s main representative.

If the project moved forward, three hotels would be built in a coastal area between Três Irmãos and Vau, covering a total area of 460,000 square metres.

Whether the developers will alter the project and try again is unclear. What is certain is that, at least for now, the João d’Arens coastal strip will remain a natural coastal haven to be enjoyed by everyone.

[email protected]

Photos: Michael Bruxo/Open Media