Islanders celebrate as Olhão mayor wins another ‘impossible battle’

Ria Formosa islanders are in celebration mode this week after Olhão mayor António Pina appears to have snatched victory from the jaws of disaster.

A flying visit ‘down south’ of environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes did indeed work the magic Pina told the community of Armona that he was hoping for (click here).

The ‘impossible’ changes to the island’s PIR (territorial plan) – releasing up to 140 properties from the threat of demolition – have been ‘sanctioned’, and will be ratified, says minister Fernandes, by the end of the year.

Even better, the council’s concession to the island will be extended for another 30 years – meaning householders can at last ‘take a breath’, relax and view their properties as ‘safe’.

Said Pina, the news shows “once more that we have an environment minister who is a privileged discussion partner, attentive to the specifics of a territory like Armona island and its people”.

The wily mayor has already been hailed a hero in nearby Culatra, where his efforts to thwart demolitions on the communities of Hangares and Farol have all brought huge dividends.

But what of the one house on Armona that has already been served a demolition order from Pina’s ‘arch-rival’ in this mammoth island struggle, Sebastião Teixeira – head of APA, the Algarve division of Portugal’s State-controlled environmental agency, and locally dubbed ‘demolition man’ for his zeal in ‘cleansing the islands’ of resident populations?

The mayor is measuring his words. “I cannot confirm that it will be safe”, he told us. “But I can confirm that it falls within the new layout for the concession”.

However, we have been informed ‘second hand’ by a leading member of Armona’s residents’ defence association that Pina met with the ‘direction’ on Monday and confirmed wholeheartedly that the half-built home of Londoners Paul Roseby and James Tod “would not be demolished”.

“I asked him specifically”, said António Lança. “And he said words to the effect that every home on the island would now be safe”.

Back now in London after their high-profile protest on August 17 in front of Olhão town hall, Roseby and Tod are simply praying.

“We are really beginning to believe the whole nightmare may be coming to an end”, they told us on Wednesday.

If all works ‘according to plan’, Mayor Pina will emerge a phenomenon lauded not only now on Farol and Hangares, but in Armona too.

With municipal elections fast approaching – and all kinds of political skullduggery in the wings – Pina’s opponents will be gnashing their teeth. Less than two weeks ago, virulent blog Olhão Livre suggested there was nothing to be done about Armona’s PIR, and that Pina was simply duping his electorate in the hope of easy victory.

MEANTIME, this morning, the nearby island of Hangares is celebrating 100 years of history as a close-knit community with the inauguration of a monument in memory of the efforts made by Portugal during the Second World War.

Indeed, Armona residents were making their way to Hangares as we wrote, intent on celebrating the occasion with their neighbours.

A ceremony attended by Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau, Navy Admirals Silva Ribeiro and Gouveia e Melo, Secretary of State for National Defence Marcos Perestrelo and maritime authorities will be followed by speeches and a special lunch organised by Hangares residents’ association.

It also coincides with locals at last being given official permission to use the jetty that up till now has been denied them, even though it is the only direct form of access to their homes.

All in all for communities that have had to fight to win recognition and their continued survival, today, this week and this month have all been pivotal.

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