Environmentalists slam council over Ria de Alvor development plans

Environmentalists have had to rap Portimão Council firmly over the knuckles for its failure to see through a development plan for protected land at Quinta do Rocha, Ria de Alvor.

Aside from the fact that the plan is for an area that a court has already said must be permanently restored to its natural state – after repeated acts of environmental vandalism by its owner – the council did not even promote the public meeting organised to discuss it.

As far as those who fought to save the natural paradise can see, Portimão Council “is simply interested in the money it could make from development”.

“It stands to make a lot” if the 200-hectares of unspoilt countryside are bulldozed to create a VIP complex with two holiday-villages and two five-star hotels, agreed Tiago Branco of the A Rocha conservation association.

It was A Rocha which fought so hard to save Quinta da Rocha from ravages wrought by its property-developer owner Aprígio Santos before Santos and his company Butwell Trading were condemned by the central administrative court of the south and ordered to “permanently suspend activities” in a ruling that was meant to run “forever”.

At the time, A Rocha’s victory was hailed as a landmark “that could have a very significant impact on Portuguese environmental law in the future”.

Yet, less than a year later, Santos and Butwell Trading are back, with another attempt to wriggle past the country’s laws.

The GARdA group set up to fight the plan explained in a recent press release that the land is not only protected by law and recognised as a site of importance under Rede Natura 2000 (for its flora, fauna and habitats), it is within the PROTAL ruling that prohibits any building close to the sea.

As concerned residents have pointed out, “further down the coast families are losing their homes because they are deemed to have been built too close to the sea, yet here a borough council is promoting a project that will see buildings sanctioned that are yards from the water’s edge”.

GARdA, which unites A Rocha, Almargem, Geota, LPN, SPEA and Quercus, has highlighted the fact that the public meeting organised to present the latest plans was not adequately publicised. There was no media statement, only a notice on the Mexilhoeira Grande parish council website and facebook page. Nonetheless, the group’s members turned up in force and are now ready to go the distance to ensure Quinta da Rocha remains protected.

Portimão council meantime has extended the deadline available for people to lodge objections. Anyone can now post their opinions on the council site (see: http://www.cm-portimao.pt/index.php/balcao2/consultas-publicas/a-decorrer-2/nucleo-de-desenvolvimento-turistico-1) until Friday February 20.

But as A Rocha’s Marcial Felgueiras told the Resident, GARdA is ready for a battle.

“The more we look into this proposal, the more convinced we are that right is on our side. We are absolutely determined to fight this plan and will go to court again if we have to.

“The developers stand no chance, of that we’re convinced.”

Indeed, Aprígio Santos – also the former president of Naval 1º de Maio football club – is unlikely to be taking personal responsibility for the project. He was recently described in the national press as owing over €600 million.

“It’s almost certain that he would sell the project to someone else”, Felgueiras confirmed.

Santos originally bought Quinta da Rocha from millionaire art collector Joe Berardo for a reported €14 million.

Berardo had purchased the land eight years previously for just €500,000.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]