It’s called ‘Cidade Lacustre’ or ‘Vilamoura Lakes’ and was dreamed up by André Jordan. The millionaire, who has just published his memoirs, was the owner of the largest resort in the country – two thousand hectares and five golf courses around Vilamoura Marina – and he wanted to extend it to Ribeira de Quarteira by building a luxury city on the water. The project included a yacht, lift so that millionaires from all over the world could moor outside the doors of their villas.
In 2008, the ‘Cidade Lacustre’ received a favourable report from the Portuguese Environment Agency and was recognised as a Project of National Interest (PIN), making it another private business with the ‘public interest’ seal. For Almargem – the Association for the Defence of the Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the Algarve, it is “one of the biggest attacks on the environment in the Algarve“, which will destroy an entire wetland with considerable environmental, social and heritage value.
The project threatening to be implemented today is a humbler one: a 60-hectare tourist town with 834 housing units, over a thousand homes and several restaurants all set around four artificial lakes, fed with seawater and interconnected by canals.
Following widespread popular opposition and a hundred participants at the public consultation (which took place discreetly during the summer of 2018 and with repeated computer problems), the Algarve Regional Coordination and Development Commission decided in late September to suspend the evaluation of the project’s environmental impact for six months. It requires the developer to change the project and reduce the “negative effects identified in different environmental factors such as archaeological and cultural heritage, landscape, biodiversity, land use, socioeconomics, geotechnics and climate change”.
“A project designed for a situation in 1999 cannot be allowed to go ahead in 2019 (based on obsolete plans created in a hurry in order to avoid the ban on building on the shoreline) on a planet on the brink of environmental and social collapse with the climate change emergency, the destruction of biodiversity and habitats on the agenda,” says the Ribeira de Quarteira Movement – Against the Cidade Lacustre. “We cannot allow them to sell all our natural heritage for the enjoyment of an elite, who are mostly foreigners, without any benefit for the common citizen and to the detriment of future generations.”
The almost 10,000 inhabitants planned at the stage of division into plots, without counting workers, would mean an even greater increase in human pressure in the region, particularly in the consumption of water – an increasingly scarce resource. The project requires the diversion of the Tisnado valley, the clearing of the mouth of the Quarteira stream and the building of a dyke along nearly two kilometres of flood protection defences in one of the areas of the municipality of Loulé that is most vulnerable to rising water levels. Part of the lakes would be created on top of already existing freshwater lakes. The division into plots also encompasses the Roman ruins of Cerro da Vila, a port settlement that survived the decline of the Roman empire and is classified as a “monument of public interest”.
As for the current business empires, Jordan’s Lusotur, which owned and managed the Vilamoura resort, was renamed Lusort when it was bought by a Spanish fund and, since 2015, it has been known as Vilamoura World, after being bought by the North American fund Lone Star. It’s the same financial group that acquired Novo Banco at zero cost, when the Portuguese state had already deposited 5.8 billion euros in the bank. This species of financial hyena uses the strategy of finding “opportunities in markets that have gone through an economic or banking crisis”. Just in recent years, in Portugal, Lone Star has bought at a low cost in order to resell at a higher price the Dolce Vita shopping centres in Porto, Douro and Coimbra, the Monumental building in Lisbon and one of the Lisbon Towers.
For Vilamoura, the tide seems to be turning. The ‘Vilamoura Lakes’ may face a new public inquiry and a new assessment of the Environmental Impact Study. This year, the municipality of Loulé has twice suspended the Municipal Master Plan to stop the construction of urban developments. One of them, Quinta do Oceano, could turn out to be another ten-hectare resort on land acquired by a Novo Banco real estate fund, devastating the Foz do Almargem. Action to protect Ribeira de Quarteira is also expected from the executive board chaired by Vítor Aleixo – the grandson of the ‘poet of the people’, António Aleixo, and president of the inter-municipal body for adaptation to climate change.