Starting the New Year with a bang is a tradition in many parts of the world and seeing in 2012 with partying, fireworks displays and fun, allowed us all a few hours of respite from thinking of what was promised to be a difficult year. Whilst many câmaras spent less than in previous years on the festivities there was not a damp squib in sight. And with over 140,000 visitors in the Algarve for the New Year celebrations it was to be hoped that at least tourism would keep its head above water.
Sadly the sparkle was short lived as we all recognised the cost of our shopping baskets and energy bills was rising far faster than we would like. At the same time the hotel industry confirmed that January had been the worst year for bed occupancy for 17 years.
The President of Portugal, Cavaco Silva, spoke with enthusiasm concerning the need for Portugal to increase the amount of goods it exports, but his interview with Time Magazine left those of us living in the south of the country wondering whether or not he had any empathy with our plight, as he had little to say about the future of tourism and how Portugal could ensure its fair share of its major industry.
February saw the axe coming down on the Allgarve brand, to mixed reactions.Most people had never quite understood the introduction of this so-called initiative in 2007 which was to promote events in the area. With two tourism boards this seemed to be one overhead too far! At the same time, there was derision from many quarters at the branded name of Allgarve – a spelling mistake at best and a derisory attempt to be clever at worst. So, millions more euros wasted through an unnecessary gimmick.
Hindsight is the only exact science, as we know. So the most generous of readers, when looking back to February, may forgive Prime Minister Passos Coelho for his optimism, when rejecting the requirement for a second bailout of funds. “We will neither ask for more time nor money to fulfil the programme,” he said at the Prime Minister’s official residence, following talks with the Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy.This belief was confirmed by the Minister of Economy Álvaro Santos Pereira.
With concern over the forthcoming tourist season and how it would be affected by the economic recession in Europe and elsewhere, major concerns were raised about the chaos which was likely on the A22 for those hiring cars for their stay in the Algarve.
The middle of the month saw those living in the Algarve celebrate Carnaval in usual style, but the continuing economic crisis brought news that Portugal’s public bank – the CGD – had closed its 2011 books €500M in the red.
And if all that gloom and doom was not enough it was confirmed that the year on year car sales had dropped by more than 45% and many parts of the Algarve were put on a drought alert – the lack of rainfall had already caused many citrus farmers great hardship.
A spate of attacks against foreigners both in their homes and in the street caused much concern and the Safe Communities Algarve initiative, launched by David Thomas, stepped up apace.
As anticipated, the A22 debacle continued unabated, with confirmation that SCUT roads in Greater Porto, Silver Coast and the A22 in the Algarve had shown a daily vehicle decrease of as much as 48.4% since the introduction of tolls.
The Algarve Resident title passed to new hands, after 22 years of family management. The acquisition of the title as part of the Open Media Group was an obvious adjunct to the titles already well established in the OMG (including Essential and Inside).
Despite the optimism of the coming summer and inherent income for the Algarve, there was considerable gloom and doom concerning the unemployment figures as they reached an all time high of 15.3% countrywide. Hotels and similar establishments were concerned about the lack of flights coming into the Algarve and it seemed likely that only self-catering establishments and supermarkets would enjoy a fruitful summer.
The sardine fishermen returned to the sea in May following a five month long embargo, and battles continued against the tolls on the A22. And to remind us all that whatever the colour of the government, nature remains fully in charge as the Algarve experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 on the Richter scale.
In spite of the ever gloomy days of the economy in Europe, the Algarve showed its true colours through its celebrations of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.The Algarve Resident spearheaded several events which resulted in over €7,000 being raised for the benefit of the Royal British Legion and Madrugada – the association which cares for those with life limiting illnesses and their families.We were particularly delighted to be able to welcome Jill Gallard, HM British Consul to the Algarve to the Gala Dinner.
Readers, ‘green’ groups and even politicians, were outraged at Silves câmara’s approval to allow the decimation of Praia Grande at Salgados.The area is recognised worldwide as one of outstanding ecological importance, being home for many species of birds and other flora and fauna.
The ‘Green’ political party Partido da Terra – MPT/Algarve slammed the tourist project, which will include three hotels, villas and a golf course and will border bird sanctuary Salgados lagoon, denouncing the “progressive killing of Salgados Lagoon and Praia Grande”.
July saw the tremendously brave and committed bombeiros from the Algarve and further afield fighting fires, the worst in the East of the Algarve. The emergency services had to ensure the evacuation of many households with property, crops, along with wildlife, all succumbing to the voracious flames.
Poor water quality due to the malfunctioning of waste water treatment plants resulted in the death of around 80% of clams in the Ria Formosa areas of Alcorão, Fortaleza and Garganta. This was a blow for the 2,500 shellfish gatherers who were left without any income.
Meanwhile there was good news for many students at the international schools in the Algarve, where higher than average results were achieved in the GCSE examinations.
In a year when the police authorities should be justifiably proud of their achievements, more than two tons of hashish pollen with a street value of €15 million was seized by the Coastal Control Unit of the GNR in Olhão. The drug, which was being smuggled aboard a locally-registered small fishing boat off Armona island, was packed in 64 separate loads and amounted to a total of 2,150kg.
Fire is always a fear during a dry year, but the blaze in 2012 remembered by many of us was that which razed seven stores to the ground at the Retail Park in Portimão. Only the food court building, a car repairs store and the fuel station, located in adjacent buildings, were spared from the fire.
This month saw the introduction of your new look Algarve Resident – something that had been in the thinking and making of the new management for six months.
Change for change’s sake is not good. But alterations made to the look and layout of the Algarve’s English language paper of choice have been well received. The new look was launched at the 2012 Better Living in Portugal exhibition and judging by the number of visitors who stopped at the Algarve Resident stand to pass on their compliments these changes were definitely for the better.
November was definitely a month of several parts – the first and most positive saw the usual planning of Christmas events – most of which were being held in aid of charity – by the stalwarts of the Algarve.At the same time more support was given to the needy and homeless by soup kitchens across the area.
A depressing, but not unexpected piece of news was that the National road authority Estradas de Portugal (EP) revealed a loss of nearly €20 million in the first six months of the year, attributed to the Algarve’s A22-Via do Infante road.Costs from January to June amounted to €25.8 million with revenue just €5.9 million.
The Algarve lost two long-term residents who were beloved characters.Clive Dunn, who was best-known as Corporal Jack Jones, the butcher in Dad’s Army, passed away at the age of 92. Clive had spent the last 30 years enjoying life in the Algarve.
Oonagh Swift died in the Algarve at the age of 83. She was a cultured, charismatic and quintessentially Irish figure beloved by people of many nationalities.
November was a wet month with rain storms causing major havoc on the roads, and mother nature again left her mark on the Algarve when the area from Carvoeiro through to Silves was subjected to a tornado, leaving a trail of devastation and some people homeless. The terrifying ordeal experienced by some homeowners was exacerbated when they learned that they were not covered by their insurance policies.
As the year began, so it ended. The unemployed continue to face an uphill battle to find work and the social security payout system faces an uphill battle to find funds to support those out of work or unable to support themselves.
The Portuguese government took an aggressive stance against those choosing legal methods to avoid tax, as well as those illegally evading tax, by employing dozens more tax inspectors.
The European Union attempted a united front over tax avoidance and evasion, as well as calling for a modern industrialisation plan – watchout in February for the Portuguese government’s take on this initiative.
Meanwhile the one issue which has been part of the content of many editions of the Algarve Resident over the past year – the Anti Tolls Protest – continues unabated.Sadly an increase in accidents on the EN125 (the alternative (!?) to the A22) has added fuel to the fire, proving in the minds of many that there has to be a resolution to the toll issue, so that traffic returns to the currently barren lanes of the trans-Algarve highway.