Plans to sell and develop untouched stretch of Algarve coastline run into controversy

If global property consultancy CBRE thought promoting the sale of one of the last chunks of prime ‘greenbelt’ Algarve coastline for a cool €200 million would be a cinch, they may now be thinking again.

No sooner had the company released its press release last Friday – on the morning most of the rest of the country clocked off for a long weekend – environmental activists got into gear.

Almargem – an association that has doggedly been trying to protect the site alongside the Algarve’s last significant wetland area for scores of species of migrating birds – immediately issued a call to arms.

Within hours, plans were being hatched to expose the Praia Grande Eco-Resort for what campaigners say it most certainly isn’t.

Indeed, Almargem claims the project is the exact same plan that united over 33,000 nature lovers to sign their names to the largest environmental petition that Portugal has ever seen.

The ‘new plan’ has simply used the word ‘eco’ to “fool people”, explains Almargem, but it “still includes three hotels, various touristic villages and of course a golf course” in an area that is already “massively overloaded by tourism”.

The “replica of so many other existing projects along the Algarve coast repeats the errors of a past that is unhappily still all too present”, the association continues, “and goes against the good intentions of national and regional tourism that have been defending the importance for the region of a differentiating tourism of excellence”.

The punch line is that Almargem is now forging ahead with plans to ensure the “fantastic heritage” of unspoilt coastal habitats – made all the more valuable by the existence of birding paradise Lagoa dos Salgados – “is preserved for future generations”.

The association is lobbying the ICNF (nature conservation institute) to classify the “whole area” as a natural reserve or protected national landscape.

At the same time, Almargem says it will be putting pressure on politicians – regional and national – “to develop the necessary efforts” so that nature is allowed to triumph over “the interests of property speculation”.

Considering CBRE opened this Pandora’s Box – apparently unwittingly – less than a week ago (click here), things could hardly have moved faster.

The Resident has repeatedly been in touch with CBRE’s press spokesperson to answer our questions, however we remained – at time of writing on Wednesday – in unrewarded expectation.

CBRE is marketing the 230-hectare Praia Grande site for Millennium BCP, which appears to have inherited ownership from bankrupt group Galilei.

Galilei emerged from the toxic ashes of the BPN/SLN banking debacle, and before it went into liquidation, its development company Finalgarve was actively seeking investors for Praia Grande in Angola.

English-language website Algarvedailynews has reminded readers that while Millennium BCP is “controlled by China’s Fosun group”, another significant shareholder is Angola’s (State) oil company Sonangol, which has actually been authorised by the European Central Bank to raise its stake in Millennium “from 14.9% to about 30%”.

Sonangol, however, has had a pasting in the international press for “literally billions of dollars in oil revenue” that have bypassed Angola’s central bank and remain unaccounted for.

Meantime, the online petition which kicked up such a stink about the Praia Grande plans when they were first marketed in 2012 is still online and still busily gathering signatures.

The number of people now against what the petition calls the “concreting over” of one of the south coast’s last havens for flora and fauna has topped 33,900.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]