Environmentalists wade into Vale do Lobo corruption scandal

With the Algarve’s luxury resort of Vale do Lobo firmly in the corruption spotlight, environmental group Almargem has gone on record to stress that backhand deals are the order of the day when it comes to regional planning – and certainly not the exclusive domain of one former Socialist prime minister.

In a statement entitled “Decades of environmental crimes and aggressions”, Associação Almargem says it “would like to recall some facts” – giving a litany of planning law ‘infringements’ given the go-ahead by “big names” like former European Commission boss José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva and, more recently, former Socialist party leader José Sócrates.

Stressing decisions when all three were in power helped destroy “a good part of the marvellous land that is the Algarve”, Almargem intimates that this is “just the tip of the iceberg”.

The inference is that corruption and Algarve territorial planning go hand-in-hand. Thus Almargem suggests that “independent of the judicial investigation” underway into alleged corrupt activities of José Sócrates, authorities should be looking into “many other” “far from clear” planning deals and situations where environmental impact assessments have been “twisted” in order to clear the path for touristic developments.

Centring on Vale do Lobo – and press reports suggesting José Sócrates is believed to have deliberately delayed the implementation of the PROTAL land plan to allow building near the sea – Almargem reveals that the prime minister in power at the time that the controversial Vale do Lobo III project was approved was former EC boss Durão Barroso (PSD).

Barroso sanctioned approval on the basis of a ministerial dispatch published in 1994 that created a “regime of exceptions” that bypassed planning laws if a project was considered “structuring” for tourism.

This dispatch did away with “the discomfort of certain controls” and was sanctioned during the PSD government of Portugal’s current president, Cavaco Silva.

It did not simply make way for Vale do Lobo III, but Vilamoura XXI and Verdelago, say Almargem – all of them developments that would not otherwise have been allowed.

Considering that current allegations point to Sócrates bending planning laws in return for million-euro favours, Almargem continues ‘recalling’ its ‘facts’.

There was the Oceano Clube development, in Garrão – also under the Vale do Lobo umbrella – that saw planning stipulations regarding proximity of buildings by the sea reduced by almost half after the “controversial redrafting” of the 2005 POOC, regulating planning from Vilamoura to Vale do Lobo.

This particular situation also harks back to the heyday of Sócrates’ control, explained Almargem.

As to the PROTAL (land plan) Sócrates is alleged to have massaged, Almargem stresses that its delay legalised almost 20,000 extra tourist beds, on top of the 24,000 that then went on to be sanctioned when the plan was allowed to come into effect.

If the authorities had looked into these and other “less than clear” developments in good time, the association concludes “we would not be here, lamenting all the decisions made over the last decades that have caused the destruction of a large part of this marvellous land that is the Algarve”.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: Almargem reveals that former EC boss Durão Barroso was the prime minister in power at the time that the controversial Vale do Lobo III project was approved