BARREIRAS BRANCAS, a sleepy, little known hamlet, only four kilometres from Loulé on the São Brás road, is about to become a political battlefield after an attempt by authorities to steamroller through a new road scheme.
Residents of Barreiras Brancas found out about the proposed new northern branch of the Estrada Nacional 270 by sheer accident. If the road goes ahead as planned, residents claim that it will divide thriving small farms into unworkable and uneconomic parcels, reducing some house prices to virtually nothing. Locals believe the main purpose of this large highway is for the transfer of waste from collection points in Tavira and Olhão to a new land-fill site just north of Loulé. This site has yet to be announced or designated, but is likely to be in a previously forested area, which was destroyed in this year’s forest fires.
If the road is built, the lives of those in the Barreiras Brancas valley will never be the same again. The Resident spoke to Professor José Rodrigues, a lecturer at the Algarve University who bought a plot of land in Barreiras Brancas just two years ago. “I felt I was careful in my purchase, I consulted the Plano de Director Municipal (PDM) to check that there were no developments planned. Nothing was foreseen, so I bought some land to build a property where I could see myself living a peaceful life for the next 20 years.
There was definitely no indication of any new road coming through the valley, yet, just two years on, a road is being planned that will finish just one metre from my door. This is not justifiable,” he said. Echoing From page 1
the feelings of many of the residents with regard to the Junta de Freguesia São Clemente, Professor Rodrigues commented: “They did absolutely nothing and the Câmara are also trying to escape their responsibilities to residents.”
When The Resident approached Loulé Câmara for a response, a source from the press office said: “The PDM is completely separate from this project, which is being dealt with by the Instituto de Estradas de Portugal (Institute for Roads in Portugal).” When asked why major works, that are due to take place in the Borough of Loulé, are not on the PDM, the spokesman agreed that it just didn’t make sense to say that the project was a separate matter. However, he was unwilling to give any further comment.
Simple country folk affected
On a humanitarian scale, the construction itself will cause tremendous heartache and trauma. The people affected are simple country folk, many of whom can neither read nor write. They live for their land and work long, hard days in order to pass something on to their children and grandchildren.
One smallholder has a thriving little farm which will be decimated and his house demolished. Another was totally confused by the maps he was shown, so a neighbour offered to walk him around and explain the situation. All he could say was that he had his favas (beans) planted and they had yet to be harvested.
An English couple, who retired there to their dream home, now find that the road will take most of their front garden and will probably run within two metres of their front door – making their home valueless, despite the time and money they have spent on it. A young Dutch couple with a one-year-old son, who are working on improving the Algarve maritime environment, have discovered that, while their house is currently approached by a two-metre wide road, they will soon have a tarmac road passing within 20cm of their kitchen door.
In Portugal, proposed changes which will affect the community are not announced in local newspapers, nor are any posters or information boards put up. Instead, as per the requirements of Portuguese law, the proposed road was announced in the legal Diário da República newspaper, which is not generally read by members of the public. The Câmara did not send out any letters to residents informing them of the proposed planning or changes. In addition, the period of public consultation about any new projects is legally just 35 days – this is the short period in which people can register any complaints – if they know that any works are due to take place.
So it could have been entirely possible that the residents of Barreiras Brancas would have been none the wiser until the bulldozers moved in and the work on the road actually started. In fact, local resident, Mr. Arnold, stumbled across the plan purely by accident when he was surfing the internet on another subject and came across the website for Loulé Câmara. He noticed a page about a proposed new road that would affect the village where he lives and immediately alerted other residents. His neighbour, José da Palma, called everyone together for a meeting the same week – the public consultation period was due to end on October 12 and time was running out.
At the time of going to press, the residents of Barreiras Brancas, co-ordinated by Professor Rodrigues, had put together a lengthy and detailed petition against the road and were sending it to the government. In addition to their anger over the local Câmara’s failure to inform them of the new road, village residents believe that, after an environmental study was made, the national authorities asked Loulé Câmara to make a social study to assess the implications on those living in the area. Something they allegedly failed to carry out.
A source from Loulé Câmara would only reiterate: “The Câmara has nothing to do with the project and the whole process is being dealt with by the Instituto de Estradas de Portugal. The study is open to public consultation, so residents should have written with any complaints to the Instituto do Ambiente.”