The government has suffered a new body blow in its determination to press ahead – against the advice and opinions of engineers, scientists, conservationists and civic groups – for a second airport south of Lisbon at Montijo.
The bid to garner support from minority parties to actually change the law in order to ‘stay with the programme’ has bitten the dust.
Left wing parties that more usually support PS powermakers have categorically refused to be reeled in – saying there are no good reasons for choosing Montijo other than to satisfy ‘big business’, in this case French company VINCI which purchased Portugal’s airports, says Left Bloc coordinator Catarina Martins, “at a bargain basement price and now wants to make as much money as possible”.
Attempts to appeal to the largest party in opposition, the centre-right PSD, have been equally stymied – with the party’s vice-chairman putting the boot in yesterday, accusing the government of “incompetence and irresponsibility”.
The truth is that this latest obstacle in starting construction on a 1.3 billion euro project designed to take the pressure off Lisbon’s creaking inner city airport are two Communist-led councils (Moita and Seixal) which, by law, have the power to ‘veto’ the plan even if it is supported by the government and given the green-light by licensing authorities.
Infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos told parliament last week that the situation was ‘absolutely incomprehensible’ and that “obviously” the law impeding the government’s wishes (and, in his mind, the country’s opportunity for development) would have to be changed.
This was always an over-simplistic view: bearing in mind the weight of informed opinion against the project.
Climate research has already shown the site will be liable to flooding; civil engineers have outlined some of the major structural drawbacks (including a runway that is too short to safely accommodate larger planes), conservationists have highlighted the danger of bird-strike, the damage the airport would cause a thriving birding wetland and the devastation it would wreak on a fragile ecosystem, while studies into the effects on public health have acknowledged the very damaging toll a busy airport would bring local communities (click here).
Yet PS Socialists, up till now, have insisted there is no Plan B.
Again, this has been over-simplistic. There are plenty of Plan B’s – it’s just a matter of which would be best.
Pedro Nuno Santos admitted in January that it was not so much a question of ‘no other options’, but ‘no more time or money’ to explore them (click here).
Now, all the bluster has to be put in a box and somehow the government will have to move forwards.
Expresso yesterday carried an opinion piece by none other than former prime minister José Sócrates (currently facing prosecution for corruption on an allegedly enormous scale), recommending the option of Alcochete (a former military shooting ground).
Alcochete has been the choice of numerous ‘experts’, as has the military base of Alverca (click here).
Airline companies have long bewailed the delay in starting construction at Montijo – but with the global panic over coronavirus now impacting the sector, those ‘wails’ may abate somewhat as a next step is decided.