Outrage as threatened islanders see “private development” given green-light for shoreline

Islander families fighting to save their homes from environmental policies that insist they are too close to the shoreline are not the only ones seeing red over what is being interpreted as a case of thoroughly warped values. A few kilometres up the coast in Praia da Galé Oeste, those same policies have allowed for the building of homes “metres from the sea”. The difference in the equation seems to be that these homes are “luxury”, with a fat price tag on them and high rateable values.

In other words, ‘everyone wins’ when it comes to returns – while everyday families like those living on the islands of Ria Formosa are considered “illegal” and “damaging to the environment”.

This is the view of campaigning Algarve MP Paulo Sá.

A committed supporter of island communities championed by citizens group SOS Ria Formosa, Sá sees the situation as a clear case of double standards.

“Finally, in the Algarve, you can always build houses next to the sea and on top of dunes,” he quips on Facebook, as environmental criteria appear to be set according to what type of housing one is dealing with.

“Two weights, two measures,” Sá explains, alluding to situations on the island of Culatra, just a tad further east, where the communities of Farol and Hangares have been “forced by the government to demolish modest homes”.

Uploading a photograph of Praia da Galé Oeste’s waiting building plots, Sá adds: “You can see walkways constructed so that people do not step on the dunes and damage them. But in this very spot, luxury homes are going to be built which, apparently, will not damage the dunes!!! (sic)”.

Taking up the issue in parliament, Sá has been assured by an environment minister – already deeply unpopular for his failure to act over the alleged nuclear threat posed by obsolete power stations in nearby Spain – that state-run environmental authority APA does indeed view the development as being entirely compatible with the current coastal plan (POOC).

This is apparently possible because the land for the project is privately owned, and not public maritime domain.

But as Sá reiterates, this simply does not wash and is “motive for great perplexity”.

Commentators on Facebook have been far more outspoken. ‘Scandalous’ after the agony suffered by low-income families in Ria Formosa being one of the most popular lines of attack.

For now, Sá has simply tabled three salient questions, translated below:

1. How can the environment ministry justify that the construction of luxury homes on the dunes of Praia da Galé Oeste, a few metres from the sea, does not preclude the safeguarding of the environment and people’s personal safety (criteria invoked, for example, to justify the demolition of the communities of Hangares and Farol, on Culatra island)?

2. Can the Minister (João Pedro Matos Fernandes) confirm that hundreds of metres of walkways constructed along Praia da Galé Oeste are designed to protect the dunes from being trampled, so avoiding environmental damage? How then can he authorise the construction of houses on dunes that are so sensitive that people are not allowed to walk on them?

3. Will the Minister of the Environment reconsider his position over the construction of luxury homes on the dunes of Praia da Galé Oeste?

The ball is in Matos Fernandes’ court – and for some reason he has gone very quiet.

Meantime, a public petition has been set up “against the construction of buildings on Praia da Galé’s dunes” ( – Contra a construção de imóveis nas dunas da Praia da Galé no Algarve).

What is the “history” of this project?

This is where things go fuzzy. It dates back to 2010, so the next question is, why has it taken so long to sell the plots?

According to comments on local news website Sulinformação, only two homes have been built so far – one of them purportedly by a former government minister who then sold the property on.

Unverifiable commentary suggests “the minister of the environment will do absolutely nothing because it is here that the Soares family have a house, right in front of the beach…”

What is clear is that other luxury projects planned for coastal zones have not fared so well.

While Praia da Galé Oeste has been deemed “compatible” with the Burgau-Vilamoura POOC, the siting of a luxury hotel “almost on the sands of Monte Gordo beach” does not gel with the Vilamoura-Vila Real do Santo António POOC at all.

Loulé’s fiscal and administrative court ruled this week that the project – initially rubber-stamped by APA and then vetoed – must be suspended.

Vila Real de Santo António town hall now has a major crisis on its hands, months before key municipal elections, as the council led by outgoing PSD mayor Luís Gomes (at the end of his three-term tenure) sold the land to Hoti Hotel Group for a cool €3.6 million (see story ‘Controversial hotel slap on Monte Gordo beach given last-minute environmental veto’ at

Público writes that the deal “could be declared null and void”, so VRSA could suddenly find itself having to return that €3.6 million cheque.

But the real question has to be, how can one POOC allow building on top of beaches, and another says it is out of the question?

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]