Aerial view Of Salgados Photo
Salgados Lagoon surrounded by virtually untouched land Photo: FRANK MCCLINTOCK

Momentary shock as obsolete Praia Grande tourism project ‘comes back from the dead’

There has been a moment of shock this week as the obsolete and much-derided coastal development project along Praia Grande in Silves – excluded to make way for a nature reserve – seemed to come back from the dead.

The Plano de Pormenor da Praia Grande is in fact technically still in place – despite the fact that the local municipality, environmental associations and groups and the State itself, have agreed that it has to be ‘adapted to new legislation’.

That new legislation comes in the form of the municipal plan of Silves (PDM), published in January last year, which has the area protected as a natural reserve.

Yet appearing this week on the ‘portal participa’ (public participation site) are two ‘projects’ for the site: one envisaging the licensing of infrastructures for two hotels, a touristic village, another hotel and village combined, a shopping complex and a golf course; the other the licensing of 193 touristic units with 386 beds, a SPA, gymnasium and indoor pool, three outdoor pools, two restaurants and a bar with outdoor terrace.

Any one of the thousands who signed the petition to ‘save the area’ (which includes birding wetland Lagoa dos Salgados) from mass development would have been forgiven for entering into mild panic. But the situation has been explained by Silves’ councillor for urbanism and territorial planning Maxime Sousa Bispo.

This is almost certainly a strategy by the holders of the project, Millennium bank bcp, to re-emphasise their case for compensation (click here).

The bank took over ownership of around 110 hectares of the area when its client Finalgarve became insolvent. It tried, unsuccessfully to sell the touristic project via global property consultancy CBRE back in 2017 and has been discovering the welter of opposition to it ever since.

When it became clear the municipality had taken the whole plan off the drawing board in its PDM, Millennium CEO Miguel Maya reportedly threatened to retaliate with a €100 million demand for compensation. And this is where things stand at the moment. 

Said Sousa Bispo: “I do not think the State announces one thing and then does another. I do not want to think that the president of the ICNF and the Minister of Environment and Digital Transition come all this way to announce a Nature Reserve and then take an administrative decision that allows all this (the hotel plans) to go ahead. No one in their right mind would do a thing like that. I am confident. This is much more a case of a developer with its back against the wall, attempting to consolidate a position… trying to see if there is a legal right to compensation”.

That said however there is every reason for the public to participate in the two exercises now online, particularly as the time-span for giving opinions runs out in 17 days time. The last public participation exercise – focusing on nature reserve classification of the 400-hectare site, which includes streams of Alcantarilha and Espiche, as well as Praia Grande and the M526 municipal road, attracted a record numbers of comments.

The latest projects can be accessed here and here – and as we say, time for participating runs out in 17 days.

NGOs fighting for the preservation of this area are meeting this week to decide how they will be reacting to Millennium’s strategy. (NB. both projects are presented as being promoted by Finalgarve, which continues to exist, in spite of being insolvent, but is now owned by Millennium bcp.)

One detail that remains on record is the statement by environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes when he visited Silves two months ago to support the proposal to create a Nature Reserve. He told Lusa then that the Finalgarve plan for a mass-touristic complex had never received a license. “Since there was no licensing, our understanding is that obviously there is no acquired right. This (the acquired right) turns out to be irrelevant. The classification (of a Natural Reserve) is coming, it’s done and once it’s completed, there will certainly be no beds”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com