As we reported recently in The Resident, work has begun on the Herdade dos Salgados complex, overlooking Galé on the Albufeira side of Lagos dos Salgados. Lisbon-based company Hersal, headed by Carlos Saraiva, has announced that it plans to build five five-star hotels and a closed condominium of 370 apartments and 75 tourist villas on the site by 2006.
There will also be a six court tennis complex, an exhibition and conference centre with 300-seat capacity, a football field and training centre and a large commercial area with restaurants and bars. The Herdade dos Salgados project, which has been estimated to cost 275 million euros, has been at the centre of fierce debate over its effect on the natural heritage of the area. But a spokesman from Hersal told The Resident about their current plans and dismissed concerns over the conservation of the site: “Hersal is constructing a tourist enterprise at Herdade dos Salgados, within the concelho of Albufeira, east of Lagoa dos Salgados. We have completely respected the Plano Director Municipal of Albufeira (PDM), which lays out what can be built where. The lagoon is protected by the Plano Regional de Ordenamento do Algarve and by the Regime de Reserva Ecológica Nacional,” said a spokesman.
Although the current works do not actually encroach on the shores of the lake, it is rumoured that another enterprise, headed by the Cavaco Brothers, has plans to build another development on the Armação de Pêra side of the lagoon. The Resident has been informed that the Cavaco Brothers also own the land in question to the west of the lagoon.
Luís Costa, from the Portuguese bird protection organisation SPEA, says the importance of Salgados cannot be overstated: “Salgados was designated as an important bird preservation area some years ago. It is one of the most important sites for water birds in the Algarve – species such as the flamingo and Purple Gallinules inhabit the lagoon. Other important environmental areas – the Ria Formosa Nature Park and Castro Marim – have legal protection, but unfortunately no legislation of any significance protects Salgados.”
Costa fears that a contractor (in this case the Cavaco Brothers) may reach a special agreement with the Ministry of Environment or Ministry of Tourism to build near the lagoon. “We have other concerns too. We think that they should have bothered to carry out an Environmental Impact Study, but they have failed to do so.”
Costa says his organisation regularly takes parties of schoolchildren to visit the area and says he has received many letters of concern about future development. Ivan Ramirez, also from SPEA, echoes the views of his colleague. “It is forbidden to build on the lagoon itself, but the laws do not define any distance from which building can begin from the boundary of the lagoon. The area will need a buffer zone and greater monitoring of the bird species in the area. As the Portuguese representative of Birdlife International, we are in close co-operation with international organisations, all of which are expressing concern over the developments.”
João Ministro, from the environmental group Almargem, is just as concerned about the possibility of construction. He claims that developers have submitted a planning application to the CCDR (Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional do Algarve – the Algarve Commission for Coordination and Development) to build on the west side of the lagoon (Armação de Pêra). Ministro, who claims to have reliable informants in the area, says that CCDR declined the application because there were too many houses envisaged in the development and because it did not comply with conservationist guidelines. “Now we are pressing for a more environmentally-friendly project,” he told The Resident. “Obviously, we would like them to build as far away from the lagoon as possible, so as to protect it. But we also want them to reduce the size of their project.” He makes clear that construction is inevitable because Silves Câmara has approved the construction of a tourist development on that site. A spokesperson from Silves Câmara would only say it “was not able to release information into the public domain about building projects”. Ministro continues to have grave concerns about the repercussions of construction. “Many people think the natural values of the area will be undermined in the event of building near the lagoon,” he told us.
The CCDR’s role in the future of the Salgados lagoon and its numerous flora and fauna is crucial, according to João Ministro. When we suggested that the two câmaras responsible for overseeing the development, Albufeira and Silves, might have overruled building plans, Ministro said the opposite was the case. “Both Albufeira Câmara (responsible for the east of the lagoon) and Silves Câmara (responsible for the west) will have approved the idea of construction because they’re big money-spinners for them. Then they will have asked for a company to design the project. The CCDR only turned down the recent planning application because it doesn’t conform to the current policy.”
So what will happen now? “The CCDR might change its policy,” Ministro told us. “It could, conceivably, make an extraordinary exception and then the contractor can do whatever it likes.A precedent for this occurred during the developments at Vilamoura and Vale do Lobo in the 1990s in what became known as the law of ten million contos.” A ‘conto’ is 1,000 escudos (five euros). In other words, money talks.
A spokesman from the CCDR declined to comment on any planning application, describing it as “a very sensitive area”. As responsibility for protecting the Salgados lagoon is passed from official to official, one thing is evident – local residents and tourists alike are keen to know exactly what is going on in the area they once enjoyed for its natural unspoilt beauty.
By Gabriel Hershman