Positive news for environmentalists battling Algarve mega-development in Praia Grande

The environmental battle that has become synonymous with saving the Algarve’s birding paradise Lagoa dos Salgados from the ravages of mega-tourist development has at last received some positive news.

A legal bid, submitted by eco-groups last year (click here http://portugalresident.com/new-legal-bid-to-block-mega-development-near-lagoa-dos-salgados), appears to have been successful – though to what degree is still uncertain.

All that is known for sure is that Loulé court has replied positively.

A spokesman for bird protection society SPEA has confirmed that the court has considered environmentalists’ concerns “valid” – although she did not know what the next step would be as everyone concerned appears to be on holiday.

A source close to the campaign has told the Resident that the upshot of the court’s decision is that the ICNF (forestry commission) has issued an edict to the effect that “no earth can be broken on any part of the site until an unbiased scientific survey has been undertaken to confirm the exact presence of the protected plant Linaria algarviana”.

If this is the case, it will be a vindication of the enormous efforts by campaigners to bring this issue into the public eye.

As local media reported ad infinitum in 2013 and 2014, criticism of the plan by developers Finalgarve – an adjunct of the Galilei Group which emerged from the ruins of the BPN/ SLN banking scandal – was massive.

An online petition has collected over 33,900 signatures from nature lovers all over the world, while left-wing MPs and councillors have joined the fight that centres on the need to protect one of the last untouched stretches of Nature on the southern coast.

Protestors’ message is that the Algarve is already overpopulated with tourist complexes and hotels, and that the environmental impact study undertaken into justifying the plan was “a whitewash”.

A salient example of this is that at no point in the study – undertaken by a company hired by the developer – was any mention made of the existence of Linaria algarviana, a red-listed plant covered by the Bern convention on conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats.

Last December, Left Bloc MPs tabled questions to the government on the sense of the development project, calling it an “absurdity” that would have “negative impacts on the region”.

Indeed, the environmental impact study flagged “a magnitude of negative impacts” – many of which involve underground water levels and conditions. These were swept aside, however, in favour of what was termed “socio-economic benefits”. It is these benefits that have even seen Silves’ CDU councillors oppose the plan, though a call to mayor Rosa Palma on Friday revealed that she was not aware of these latest developments.

“This is all news to me,” Palma told us. “And I am quite surprised. First, because the courts are not working in August, and second because Finalgarve has only recently renewed its building licence.

“If they wanted to start building tomorrow, as far as things stand in the town hall, they could,” she told us.

A key factor that has played into conservationists’ hands this far has been Finalgarve’s lack of funds to initiate the multi-million euro project.

Last time we spoke to the company’s press liaison source, he was reticent to give any news of funding, simply saying that Finalgarve’s CEO was hoping to find investors in Angola. That was before Angola entered its current financial crisis.
Meantime, mayor Palma has confirmed that she and her CDU team remains dead against the plan – believing it “out of date and out of keeping with the needs of the borough”.

As to the edict by the ICNF, the Resident could neither confirm nor deny its existence.

A spokesman for the ICNF said he was “not allowed to talk to journalists” if we were planning on writing an article. He referred us to a communications director in Lisbon who was on holiday. We then spoke to a receptionist who told us to put our questions in writing. This is standard procedure in Portugal and almost always results in very slow responses – irrespective of press deadlines.

Finalgarve’s communications company Aximage could also not be raised, by phone or email during business hours on Friday, and a call to the development company itself informed us that “everyone is on holiday”.

According to Mayor Palma, Finalgarve’s renewed building licence for the 359-hectare development remains valid until July 2016.

By NATASHA DONN natasha.donn@algarveresident.com