Ria Formosa demolitions “to make way for private marina and VIP resort”

Bloco de Esquerda MP and anti-tolls champion João Vasconcelos travelled to the threatened island of Culatra, in Ria Formosa, today (Saturday) to hear first-hand why homeowners in the ‘villages’ of Farol and Hangares have no intention of quitting their homes on October 27 to make way for mass demolitions.

Among information exchanged came various shocks – perhaps the starkest being that a maquette for the future development of Farol was shown “to a select group” at the PSD’s “Festa do Pontal” end-of-summer party in the Algarve, in 2014.

Where the maquette is now, is one of the many questions on the island that is being ‘ripped apart’ as different reasons are given in multiple cases for tearing 81 homes down.

Last year it was because “the islands should be for everyone” (PSD environment minister Jorge Moreira da Silva), this year it is that various homes are “at risk”(PS environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes).

Thus the impetus for Vasconcelos’ six-hour guided tour: to discover the complete absence of risk – confirmed by Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau – the mind-boggling iniquities in the choice of which houses should go and which should stay, and the real truth behind the numbers touted in the nation’s press.

Matos Fernandes told reporters last week that he had signed-off for the demolition of Farol and Hangares homes, and that 101 families would be (eventually) rehoused in new sites within the borough of Faro.

What he failed to explain was that none of those families are the people due to be made homeless on Farol or Hangares.

The 101 refer to people whose homes were bulldozed on other islands last year.

Farol and Hangares residents are all deemed to be living in what authorities called “homes of secondary residence”.

The fact that they aren’t was another aspect of Vasconcelos’ tour.

He met some of the oldest residents – islanders whose fathers built their homes as early as 1917, he heard how ‘requalification work’ had actually caused the ‘sea side’ of Farol to be battered by waves in a way that “never happened before” – and islanders showed him areas where sand had been ‘dredged’ (and sold in one case to Spain) from the ria side of the island to the point that the shoreline has ‘collapsed’.

To top it all, island dwellers explained how the government’s ‘criteria’ to demolish houses less than 40 metres from the sea applied only to the ‘sheltered’ side of the island – and saw some homes “condemned” that were as many as 55 metres from the water.

An increasingly incredulous Vasconcelos also learnt that the ‘ria’ side of the island where homes are due to be demolished has “no tide at all”.

“Even in the worst weather, none of the houses due for demolition ever get water coming to their doors”, said one of the many householders – stressing that elsewhere “homes are allowed right on the water”.

On the island of Armona, for instance, there is even a house being built “in the water”. It has a licence, and is the property of an Englishman, Vasconcelos heard.

Led by battling Farol parish council boss Feliciano Júlio, the tour brought what Júlio called the “lies and hypocrisy” of demolition plans once more into sharp focus (click here), with all involved highlighting “the total confusion” at work.

It now remains to be seen what if anything Vasconcelos can do when he returns to Lisbon on Monday.

As he explained to us, “if the government continues ignoring the people I cannot see how long the parties like ours can go on supporting them”.

Accompanying him were BE activists and Olhão councillor Leonia Norte who repeatedly said: “Nothing seems to make sense”.

“It never has”, SOS Ria Formosa’s Vanessa Morgado told her.

As for the “rush” to start demolitions the minute the summer ends, Vasconcelos revealed this may have much to do with “European funds being at risk”.

If the government doesn’t start its so-called “naturalisation” programme before the end of 2016, community funding could “disappear”.

With the visit coming to an end on Hangares, homeowner João Casanova returned to the subject of the maquette, and the VIP resort that everyone has always said was the hidden agenda in efforts to cleanse these islands of their long-term Portuguese residents.

“Has anyone told you that Abramovich, the Russian who owns Chelsea football club, was moored off the island of Deserta, just off Farol, for more than a month last year”, he asked us. “Do you imagine that was just a coincidence?”

Elsewhere, the islands other ‘champions’, the PCP communists, have challenged Matos Fernandes to come clean over the many discrepancies at play – including his failure to realise that demolition notices were being sent out in his name when he was telling parliament that “nothing had been decided” (click here).