‘Monster’ retail park gets go ahead

A controversial new Portimão-based retail park has been approved after two years of wrangling. And the project promoter has promised that, if all goes according to plan, the shopping area will open next year. Some of the planned 22 shops in the development could also be open 24 hours a day, creating 500 jobs in the process.

According to Barão Carneiro, a partner in the firm Cerca do Colégio – the owner of the area where the retail park will be constructed – the local authority’s approval will allow for ground work to begin within 30 to 60 days. The forecast completion date will be between six and 12 months. The businessman revealed that the building will cover approximately 20,000 hectares. There will also be three hectares of green space and 1,000 parking spaces. The retail park will be ‘brightened up’ with paintings and equipped with a children’s play area and water park. The park will be located five kilometres from Portimão, near Chão das Donas.

Portimão traders up in arms

But the construction of the new shopping centre has stirred great anger on the part of the Associação Comercial de Portimão (ACP – Portimão Traders’ Association), who are still hopeful of preventing it. But, despite these protests, there were no ACP representatives present at the câmara session when the building project was approved. This is in spite of the association stressing its implacable opposition to the scheme.

The president of the ACP, Paulo Reis, later said a lawyer had represented the association at the meeting. According to Reis, the non-attendance of ACP leaders (the reverse of what has happened previously when delegates were invited to attend câmara meetings) resulted from “a change of strategy” as he now regards the affair as a “judicial matter”.

Barão Carneiro, for his part, guarantees that the new commercial park will not significantly undermine the shops of the city, given that it lies outside Portimão’s urban perimeter. But, in an interview with The Resident, a spokesperson from the ACP described the project as “a monster retail park” authorised by “people who want to hurt Portimão”. The spokesperson also said that the decision taken by Portimão Câmara had “no practical effect” because it merely repeated a similar application in August 2002, which was subsequently rejected. The ACP promised that they would do everything to ensure that “there would be a similar result” once again.

Reis explained to The Resident that the ultimate decision lay not with Portimão Câmara, but with the Direcção Regional de Economia (DRE). “We now have a new law that does not permit local authorities to grant licences in this way. I know from various newly mooted projects that Portimão Câmara can do nothing. Here at the ACP, we have 2,000 small shops in our organisation and 7,500 members, all of whom are completely opposed to the new construction.”

Another development also planned

Meanwhile, rumours are flying that there may be another commercial structure in Portimão on the site of the old Adega wine co-operative. The space was acquired some time ago by a firm from the Feira Nova group, which wants to build there. Reis also opposes this new development. “We do not have the space in the Algarve for any more big shopping structures. We already have 86 and we are now the region in Europe with the greatest number of hypermarkets – with more square metres of shopping space per inhabitant – than anywhere else.”

The leader of the ACP says that new planning applications “will also be duty-bound to go through the Direcção Regional de Economia and through a commission, in which we and other partners will participate. We are currently awaiting two edicts from the DRE. There are no possibilities until then of awarding licences for new hypermarkets.”

Portimão Câmara declined to offer any opinion about the area and any planning development in question, but the intentions of the Feira Nova group are well known and the group is apparently already preparing a proposal, which will be presented within a short space of time. Meanwhile, the ACP has confirmed “its commitment to represent the interests of Portimão’s traders, as it has done with the retail park envisaged for the Chão das Donas area.”