Take paradise, put up a parking lot

news: Take paradise, put up a parking lot

Do you remember Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi? “They take paradise and put up a parking lot,” was a recurring line – and my goodness, I am beginning to think that it could be the theme of the Algarve nowadays. Many of us who work here earn our living from property development one way or another – writing the words, designing and printing the brochures, selling the advertising, selling the real estate itself – but I do think that sometimes it behoves us to stop and take stock.

I talk with lots of people in my work, across a wide spectrum of interests. There are real estate agents who tell me, as long as the figures stack up, investors will buy. They don’t care what it is or where it is – they will buy. Should I not be delighted that money is coming into the region? Of course, I welcome investment as much as anyone, but as long as the investment hounds are baying for ‘build it, sell it, rent it’ blood, there will be developers only too pleased to oblige. That is why they are developers. They are not called improvers, or environmentalists, or even charities. They are out to make money and they will go as far as they are allowed to go, by those who make the rules.

Two examples jumped out at me from this week’s Expresso newspaper. One is for a development in Cabanas, near Tavira. The image is an aerial shot of the beautiful Ria Formosa, with dunes and islands off the mainland. The headline reads ‘The Last Paradise’ – and the development comprises hundreds of apartments, in a modern style which has little to do with the surroundings. I am sure the apartments will sell, but it just seems a bit sad to be taking ‘the last paradise’ and exploiting it in this way.

The other is for a development between Salgados golf club and Armação de Pêra. They have produced a nice brochure which says, ‘there are secrets that you only share with friends’ – nice idea. The inside spread is a large, panoramic photograph of the site taken, they tell us, on May 15, 2004. It is beautiful – the wild flowers are in full bloom and there is nothing to spoil the view of the ocean. I hope the photograph is framed and put somewhere prominent, because for sure the site will not look like that on May 15, 2005!

Is there not a point at which someone, somewhere, will say: “If we put more concrete along the Algarve, people won’t like it any more?” Many people who have been here for 15 or 20 years are already deeply unhappy with the way the region has changed and would love to move. But what with the changes in offshore legislation last year, which hit them hard, and the fact that it is not easy to up and go and start again when you are in your 50s or 60s, they are stuck. The counter argument is that the people who are coming in and buying now never knew it before, and so it doesn’t matter. They are quite happy with it, as it is, thank you very much.

Another trend which I find worrying – and which is seriously affecting the Algarve – is price rises. We all know that prices increased enormously when the Euro was introduced, and again when IVA rose from 17.5 per cent to 19 per cent – rounding has never been so profitable! But I am sure that you are finding, as I am, that the cost of everyday living is going up and up. I eat out a lot, as one look at my waistline will tell you! Many times recently, when I have been to restaurants with clients or friends, we have been the only ones there, and I have had to explain that this is not because the restaurant is bad, but because – well, because what? Because people resent paying so much money for meals? I spoke with a British family recently who had moved here from Brussels. They said that, in their frequent visits here, they noticed prices going up by 10 or 15 per cent at a time in restaurants. Several friends have told me that their families and friends will not be coming back because the Algarve is too expensive now. How sad. How inevitable.

Still on the subject of prices, we know that rentals have been dismal this summer, and I have heard of some smart hotels with a 20 per cent occupancy rate – how can anyone survive on that? I wonder if this will lead to more properties being released onto the long-term rental market? Now that is another subject all to itself, isn’t it? On the Costa del Sol, there are so many rental properties available that renters have a choice.

Here, as many of you will know, it is virtually impossible to find anything decent to rent all year round and, when you do, the price is very high. Perhaps some property owners will come to realise that renting to responsible people all year round is, in fact, a viable alternative to the ‘quick fix’ of holiday makers in the short summer season. Or, on the other hand, perhaps some of these profit-minded developers will come to understand that we resident renters present an interesting – and not so fickle – market. Ah, the joys of life in paradise!