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Multi-million euro project awaits regional interest status

Government calling for “speediness” with administrative procedures

By INÊS LOPES [email protected]

Loulé Câmara is calling for a multi-million euro tourist project earmarked for a protected rural area in the council to receive “municipal and regional interest” status as it says the local economy is in dire need of a boost.

The Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate, a project being promoted by GOLFREI — Empreendimentos Turísticos SA, part of the international group IFA Hotels & Resorts, which includes the Sheraton Pine Cliffs Resort, is being considered by the câmara as vital, particularly to help develop the inland areas of the council.

To be located at the Quinta do Freixo, a property in the Benafim parish council, the development could become a project of “municipal interest” and “regional interest” if the Municipal Assembly and the CCDR-Algarve (commission for regional development) respectively approve the status.

The project, says the câmara, needs special recognition as it is expected to create nearly 8,000 jobs during the construction phase and more than 1,000 jobs once built, which, under the current economic climate, would also bring a much-needed boost to the region as a whole.

A recent notice from the government, dated March 14 and signed by the secretaries of State for Economy and Regional Development, Tourism and Environment, has already recognised the Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate as being of public and tourist interest as an Economic Development Nucleus (Núcleo de Desenvolvimento Económico).

However, environmental issues could pose a problem as the land in question, covering 380 hectares, is on areas classified as ‘ecological reserve’ (REN), ‘national agricultural reserve’ (RAN), with sections that are part of the Rede Natura network of protected ecological zones in Europe and include underground aquifers.

These environmental issues were described in the government notice, but in light of the importance that is being attributed to the project, it is calling for “speediness” with regard to administrative procedures particularly “in the current difficult climate as far as foreign investment is concerned, in which competition is at a global level”.

Despite the apparent “green light” being given to the Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate, the government is requiring that environmental impact assessments are carried out to determine the “direct and indirect” effect such a development would have on the area in view of other projects in progress or already approved.

With a planned construction area of 129,930 square metres, the Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate is set to include a total of 1,722 tourist beds to be spread over a five star boutique hotel, apartments, detached villas and isolated villas “whose architectural concept will be inspired by the traditional Algarve/Mediterranean style”, stated the development’s official website.

The resort will be built around a central square and will also include a spa, 18-hole golf course, a golf academy, a sports and leisure centre, a congress centre and commercial areas.

In a statement sent to the press this week, Loulé Câmara says the project represents an important contribution to the economic, social and tourist development of the municipality.

“Not only will the project ensure environmental sustainability, it will also promote inland areas helping to populate them, contribute to the diversification of the tourist offer and assist with the problem of seasonality ,” said the câmara.

Aimed at the high-class tourism market, the luxury resort will also contemplate economic activities for the resident community.

According to the Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate website, the rural setting is described as being of “incomparable beauty” with surrounding scenery including the Rocha da Pena protected area.

“The Vale do Freixo Golf & Country Estate is being planned according to the highest standards of sustainability, respecting, preserving and protecting the unique natural environment of the region, with the support of various entities such as the Algarve University and the Portuguese Golf Federation,” stated the website.

According to Loulé Câmara, it was in 2001 that the câmara began proceedings to establish the tourist potential of the Benafim area within the Municipal Master Plan (PDM) at the time, with a view to building a development aimed at the tourism market.

“These underdeveloped, impoverished and depopulated rural areas need to be dynamised to encourage people to move here, invest in the economy and create jobs.”