Friday, January 18, 2013

Salgados: Conflict or compromise?


 Finalgarve, the company behind the highly controversial tourist development planned for the Lagoa dos Salgados and Praia Grande area, is soon to release details of  an ‘environmental park’ it intends to create as part of the overall project.
A spokesman for the company told me that a formal public presentation of the proposed park will be made in Silves library at 11am on 4th February.
This follows the announcement last week by the Secretary of State for the Environment that an official environmental impact study is to be carried out before the huge Finalgarve development east of Armação de Pêra is allowed to proceed. The study, directed by the Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente, is already underway, but it may take several months to complete.
The impact study satisfies one of the demands of groups of environmentalists who have united under the banner ‘Friends of Lagoa dos Salgados.’ On the same day the Secretary of State announced that the study would go ahead, leading figures among the Friends of Salgados delivered to the Environment Minister’s office in Lisbon a petition signed by 20,000 supporters.
Either the impact study or the environmental park plan – or both - could prove to be the catalyst for renewed dialogue and possible compromise between NGO environmental groups and the developers.  
For the time being, Finalgarve and the Friends of Salgados appear to be totally at loggerheads. The Friends want the development stopped, but Finalgarve says it fully intends to pursue the project in partnership with other investors or developers. Crucially maybe, the company affirmed today: "Our project will not interfere with Lagoa dos Salgados nor use any of its water."
The current deadlock is in contrast to the large measure of goodwill that existed several years ago between Finalgarve and the Portuguese and British bird conservation organisations SPEA and the RSPB. They had reached an agreement by early 2008 with various municipal, regional and national bodies to reduce the number of beds in the development, to create a buffer zone between the development and Lagoa dos Salgados, and to conserve the lagoon as a wildlife sanctuary with a sustainable eco-management policy.
Instead of looking after the lagoon, the responsible government bodies have grossly neglected it. Water levels have been allowed to fluctuate wildly from overfull to completely dry, often due to artificial causes; flocks of goats and sheep trample over the habitat of ground-nesting species during the breeding season; marauding shepherd dogs and strays chase hares and birds at will; information signs have been deliberately smashed.
Ironically, the ‘no access’ signs still in place at the edge of the lagoon bear four logo images:  those of SPEA, the RSPB, Birdlife International and Finalgarve.
Renewed concern about the future of the area erupted last June with an announcement from Silves Câmara that Finalgarve’s long-approved plans would involve an investment of more than €232 million to build three hotels, several tourist villages and 18 holes of golf. The 349-hectare development would boost Silves’ coffers by €35 million over ten years and create many jobs.
An online petition was launched, regional and national environmental groups came together on the issue and campaigning newspapers joined in a chorus of opposition.
The newly-formed Friends of Salgados went into battle mode insisting that the Algarve did not need any further tourist developments and that if the Finalgarve project were to go ahead it would “destroy” Salgados. The petition declared that “any development taking place in the area will have a devastating impact on the wildlife.” 
When asked about the environmentalists’ claim that the development will “destroy” the lagoon and that “living space for wildlife will be lost forever,” the Finalgarve spokesman said: “We absolutely disagree with this claim. We are going to develop our project which respects the environment. Furthermore, we believe the project will profit from its environmental potential.”
The spokesman added: “The environmental park will go ahead as planned and it will allow us to preserve the best characteristics of Lagoa dos Salgados as a tourist destination. Being a tourist destination, we want to take advantage of the environmental park - and of the whole treatment of the environment - as a value added proposition of the project.”
There has been no recent dialogue between Finalgarve and environmental groups. Asked if Finalgarve would agree to negotiations, the spokesman said the company would welcome “with an open mind” any talks with any of the interested parties.
Domingos Leitão, a leading figure in both SPEA and the Friends of Lagoa dos Salgados protest movement, said this week: “In the past five years, local and national administration bodies have failed to take any credible action to protect the lagoon. Finalgarve has done little more than nothing. But if we see a window of opportunity, with no preconditions, we would be open for discussions again.”

9 comments:

  1. It will be very interesting to see what is proposed in this "environmental park", which, i understood late last year, was not so much a park but a "series of measures", all of them apparently aimed at preserving the environment.
    It's kind of odd that, developers interested in preserving the environment. You don't see that everyday - and so, this presentation will be interesting.
    But I wonder how easy it will be for Finalgarve to find partners for this massive development (that will preserve the environment), when progress has effectively been held up while the environmental impact study is undertaken?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have very little trust in a developer's word that they "would protect the environment". Isn't this what they all say every time - and look what a mess they've made of it all along the Algarve coastline to date. Surely we should take past "developments" as a yard-stick with this very, very special place, the last of its kind along this coast?
    As for "creating jobs", it's interesting to note that the number of jobs Finalgarve say they'd create tallies with the number of jobs their parent company, Gallilei, say they'd lose if they're forced to pay the fine for the corruption they indulged in during the recent banking scandal. And where are the figures for these jobs? Are they permanent jobs or do they include the short term construction jobs? Moreover, all projects "create" jobs, but nowadays I think that isn't quite enough; we should be looking further than this, we should be thinking more long term and bearing in mind to a far greater degree the legacy we will leave our children, and another failed tourist development blighting the coast when there are quite enough in the area already doesn't fit the bill.
    Moreover, the plans as available from the Camara show no Environmental Park at all, simply a space of 50 mts between their golf course and the lagoon - not 500 mts as I've seen some quote. 50 mts is hardly enough space to swing a cat and certainly isn't an Environmental Park.
    Further, if they're not going to take water from the lagoon, where are they going to take it from? Remember they have to find enough for at least 3 hotels, two holiday villages, a couple of football pitches and an 18 hole golf course ...
    Nobody is against development per se, but when one has a company that already has form and which then steamrollers through a planning permission citing two 9 hole golf courses, (instead of an 18 hole one as advertised in their promotional bumph), simply to get around planning regs then a large question mark should be in everyone's mind as to the veracity of their statements.
    Remember all they're doing is "promising" to do this; what happens when they break their word? What come back is there? From past experience with the politics of this country there'd be very little I feel, but by that time the damage would've been done and there'd be no going back.
    This is all about money and how much they can make - obviously, and there's no harm in that - but empty promises have no value and when the stakes are this high it is up to us all to fight for the very lowest impact on this last remaining jewel for wildlife along this coast. Man is not the only animal on this planet, and many, many tourists are already drawn to the Algarve because of its wildlife - and we already have quite enough hotels and holiday villages to accommodate them all.
    This is not "The Environmentalists" against "The Developers". The "Friends of Salgados" are simply a group of very concerned individuals who spoke up to say that they were worried that Salgados would be destroyed for no apparent reason other than short-term profit. We felt it was wrong that these widespread feelings were taken so little into account and that the "deal" as brokered between SPEA, the RSPB and Finalgarve did not go far enough to preserve the lagoon for the benefit of future generations.
    The petition gives, (it's still on-line), everyone a voice, and that voice turned into the largest Environmental Protest Portugal has seen for 30 years, but let's not get complacent. So far we have only, but finally, got a Government commitment for a full EIA to take place, something that the various NGOs have been struggling for over 10 years to achieve. The struggle now is to make sure that this is carried out by the best people possible, taking into account all the data that SPEA and others have accumulated over the years and that we're not faced with a whitewash - that really would be sad ....

    ReplyDelete
  3. The quote below shows the difference between property developers and the rest of us:

    "...the environmental park will go ahead as planned and it will allow us to preserve the best characteristics of Lagoa dos Salgados as a tourist destination. Being a tourist destination, we want to take advantage of the environmental park - and of the whole treatment of the environment - as a value added proposition of the project."

    ---

    'Preserving the best as a tourist destination' sounds to me like Disneyland, or a butterfly pinned on a board to be admired, but the life has gone.

    'We want to take advantage of the environmental park'
    ...presumably to sell more units and holidays and to have lovely pictures in glossy brochures.

    '... a value-added proposition of the project'

    Don't be fooled by this sliver-tongued spokesman who is very, very good at his job and deserves to be paid a lot of money. His job is to persuade us that the developer is our friend, the environment's friend, everyone's friend and then when permissions are granted, the developer will do exactly what it wanted to do all along and will forget its new friends who will be left scratching their heads and wondering how we could have been so stupid.

    Finalgarve are now desperate to counter the vast amount of adverse publicity this highly suspect project has created. And there has been a vast amount of coverage both ion Portugal and across the world for this is a world renowned site, make no mistake.

    Any potential investor Googling 'Salgados Finalgarve' will soon be on the trail of thousands of words,hundreds of comments and a 20,000 plus petition saying that this development will be resisted, it should not go ahead, the project has a whiff of political interference, this area should be preserved for wildlife not nightlife.

    Not good reading for a potential investor being drawn into the project with the promise of environmental credentials and a green light from the authorities. It has been a stitch-up from thr start with the land 'slipping through the net' of correct classification as this site is a prime site for a developer's dream. Loads of smallholdings and farms whose owners can be pressurised, a wonderful stretch of beach that the developer will make its own, a bird reserve to put on the brochure to show how caring and eco-minded this project is.

    It's all nonsense of course. The environmental aspects are clearly just being used a a marketing tool by the developer, this is clear in the phraseology in the quotes above.

    I notice the developer's spokesman does not mention the fact that the EC is now taking a big, big interest in this project, the environmental aspects and the way it has been mishandled by an aquiescent Portuguese government.

    One question for the developer, how much of the land do you actually own?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maybe another question is "How close are you to securing the investors that you have said are vital in order to have the necessary funds to go ahead with this project?"

    My guess is that they are a long way from finding investors interested in sinking money in a country that is so horribly mired in economic problems.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Maybe the developer's name should be changed to "Fimalgarve" as being more appropriate - seeing that they are bent on destroying the Algarve we know and love. David

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Ill fares the lagoon,to hast'ning ills a prey,
    Where wealth accumulates,and birds decay."
    The Deserted Bird Sanctuary.
    Apologies to Oliver Goldsmith.

    ReplyDelete
  7. 4th of February meeting


    Finalgarve, the company behind the highly controversial tourist development planned for the Lagoa dos Salgados and Praia Grande area, is soon to release details of an ‘environmental park’ it intends to create as part of the overall project.
    A spokesman for the company told me that a formal public presentation of the proposed park will be made in Silves library at 11am on 4th February.

    ReplyDelete
  8. G'morning Len!
    Will you be doing a follow-up piece to this blog reflecting the outcome of their Public Presentation yesterday?
    I just ask as you wrote, "Asked if Finalgarve would agree to negotiations, the spokesman said the company would welcome “with an open mind” any talks with any of the interested parties."
    Well there were plenty of people who turned up yesterday for their presentation, people who wanted - and expected - to be able to talk freely with this company.
    However, this was not to be, as, and I quote here, "No questions are permitted".
    This cynical disdain for anyone's opinion but their own speaks wonders for their integrity. It certainly was not "with an open mind" that they came to present their vapid and anodyne plans yesterday and I look forward to your next report on this saga.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I take your point, Frank, and note that Monday’s presentation, and reaction to it, has been comprehensively covered by the Algarve press this week. I will continue to follow this saga with great interest.

    ReplyDelete