Saturday 19th November 2022.
“We can say that we have achieved a great deal, but we have had to adapt” to many new challenges, said the Mayor of São Brás de Alportel, Vítor Guerreiro, at the press conference held at the Hotel Rural/Restaurante Rocha da Gralheira on Thursday 10 November. Elected to serve from 2021 to 2025, the municipal executive told the 30 journalists present about the main achievements and challenges that the Council had encountered during its first year of office. It was a year marked by the global crisis caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine, the post-pandemic recovery period and the undeniable evidence of climate change, making it necessary for the Council to continuously adjust its planning and budget in order to respond to the pressing needs of the population and the municipality.
First, the good news: the population of São Brás de Alportel now numbers 11,500 and the municipal economy actually grew during the pandemic, with the creation of 32 new small and medium-sized businesses. The municipality also agreed to a transfer of powers in the area of education. Vítor Guerreiro says that, despite the enormous financial challenge which this entails, it has proved possible to introduce proximity policies that are already resulting in some modernisation and maintenance measures, such as, for example, the launch of the pre-paid card that has eliminated physical money from schools. The Council has also maintained several support measures in the area of education.
Vitor Guerreiro is prepared to accept the transfer of several more powers, although he expressed the hope that this would be accompanied by a fair transfer of funds. A transfer of powers is also expected to take place soon in the areas of social action and health. In this latter case, the municipality has already submitted an application to the government’s Recovery and Resilience Plan to carry out works and improvements to the Health Centre.
Committed to building a prosperous and proactive community for a sustainable future, the municipality has been harmonising its policies with a view to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations for 2030. In addition to environmental concerns, these goals advocate policies to reduce inequality, defending the most disadvantaged, creating prosperous and sustainable economies, improving access to healthcare and underlining the importance of working in partnership, which is already part of the municipality’s “DNA”.
“More than just undertaking physical works of cement or tarmac, we also want São Brás de Alportel to be a people-friendly municipality that serves as a benchmark for others,” said Vítor Guerreiro, stressing that in this municipality (whose population growth is one of the highest in the country) the work carried out is designed to respond to the needs of the population, while at the same time striving for rigour in financial management. This “calls for creativity and efficiency” and is often achieved by applying for community and state funding.
In relation to the environment, a number of projects have been developed through applications for funding, as was the case, for example, with the campaign “From Earth to Earth – Nature Circulating!” which made it possible to distribute more than 300 composters to residents of the municipality and thus reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.
Water efficiency is another of the municipality’s goals, and Acácio Martins explained that, although a lot of work still remains to be done, there has been an increase of over 200% in investment in this area in the last year, with improvements in the telemanagement and monitoring of the water distribution network, as well as the control of water consumption, with the installation of flow meters and pressure reducing valves, and the upgrading of the municipality’s roundabouts, designed to significantly reduce water consumption and losses.
Also planned is the replacement of water pipes in the Municipal Market area, leading to improved water efficiency, the elimination of architectural barriers and the enhancement of public spaces, as well as the installation of a system for the reuse of water from the Municipal Indoor Swimming Pools, a project that has already received approval.
Energy is a global concern, and the municipality is making adjustments to respond to the exponential increase in its cost. There is an ongoing project to substitute the lighting system of the North Circular Road. This will cost approximately 55 thousand euros, but it will allow for savings of between 70 and 80%. At the same time, the municipality is intensifying the energy certification of municipal equipment and buildings in order to apply for support in this area, namely from the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR).
These investments are rigorously planned, but are often almost imperceptible to the population. Together with the investments made in accessibility and mobility, Acácio Martins defended them as vital for the quality of life of residents and visitors, as well as for attracting new investments.
Acácio Martins also highlighted the intense activity of the municipality’s sports associations and the growing number of people of all ages currently engaged in the most varied sports. This dynamic also places greater responsibility on the Council, which manages most of the sports structures in the municipality and strives hard to guarantee their maintenance and quality. Such work has also involved the progressive adaptation of these facilities in order to make them accessible and usable by people with motor disabilities.
Such measures also play an important part in the creation of a more inclusive municipality.
“We have inclusion as a priority”
In this first year of office, which coincided with the recovery after the pandemic, together with the outbreak of war in Europe and the ensuing crisis, the Vice-President, Marlene Guerreiro, wished to highlight as the Council’s first great achievement the creation of an “ever more resilient, enterprising and supportive community in São Brás”.
“We have inclusion as a priority,” she stated, recognising that the results of this mission are due to the work undertaken within a truly “supportive network”, in partnership with all organisations and bodies, including associations, families and the community.
The Inclusive Programme of activities, which started as a holiday project and is now an all-year-round reality, is one of the achievements that Marlene Guerreiro considers most satisfying. This project is being developed at Espaço Inclusão, whose facilities are provided by Santa Casa da Misericórdia. “One more step towards reaching our goal, which is to create a multi-purpose activity centre for these boys who have certain difficulties and limitations,” she observed.
As an example of this broad commitment, the vice-president explained that, in order to face the growing needs resulting from the current crisis, the municipality has resorted to the Social Emergency Fund, which provides a more versatile form of aid to families. This measure will be reinforced in 2023 and the municipality enjoys the support of two citizens who selflessly contribute to this fund, thereby reinforcing the Municipal Rental Support Programme and the Projeto Mão Amiga (Friendly Hand Project), which enables adaptations to be made to the homes of vulnerable families and those with more specific mobility needs.
With access to housing becoming increasingly difficult, the Council approved the Municipal Housing Strategy and, together with the Parish Council and Santa Casa da Misericórdia, intends to invest close on 11 million euros in the construction and rehabilitation of houses, creating new housing solutions that will improve the situation of 140 families in the coming years. This will reinforce the work that is already being carried out with the Rental Support and Young Rental Programmes.
Looking towards the future, the Council has been reinforcing its work with young people, with the 10th Youth Awards Gala being scheduled for 19 November, recognising the talents of some of the young people of São Brás. This has been one of the municipality’s many successful achievements in this area in the course of this year.
Marlene Guerreiro maintains that the work in this area should be done with young people and not just for young people. This week, the Council held the first meeting of the Municipal Youth Assembly, which it is hoped will encourage active civic participation. The active participation of the entire community is a goal of the municipality, which has yet another Participatory Budget in progress.
Tourism, culture and heritage united in promoting the municipality’s economic development
The support for entrepreneurship is a municipal priority. Marlene Guerreiro underlined some achievements in these areas, including the success of the Incubator Network, which already has two spaces receiving a dozen entrepreneurs and is preparing to open a new Entrepreneurship Nest (with a mixed investment in autonomous spaces and coworking) by the end of the year, as well as an incubation nest in the area of agriculture in the near future. Marlene Guerreiro says that these solutions are attracting the attention of many entrepreneurs, who, in this way, are able to take the first steps in developing their projects.
One of the actions promoted by the Entrepreneur’s Office, the centre of the business support strategy, is its accelerated licensing in the form of the “Via Verde para o Desenvolvimento”. The realisation of Business Forums was another achievement highlighted by the vice-president. This is a new initiative that promotes synergies between consolidated companies and young entrepreneurs with business ideas that they wish to implement. Other new events have served as anchors for the municipality’s activity, such as the “Feira da Serra” (Mountain Fair), which this year welcomed 38,600 visitors, the “Stock Out” Bargain Fair and Red Night and Silver Night, among other initiatives, where culture always serves as a vehicle for boosting the economy.
In the heart of the Algarve, São Brás de Alportel continues to invest in tourism, which has enjoyed an intense but harmonious development, through its connection to its roots, culture and heritage. The opening of the Motorhome Service Area last March was one of the achievements mentioned, along with the award of the “Village of Portugal” title to the hills of Serra de São Brás.
The “National Road 2 Memory House” is a good example of this commitment and one of the great achievements of the municipality’s activities, as well as the Accessible Tourism project, which, for example, made it possible to turn the Costume Museum into a Museum for All. Marlene Guerreiro also referred to the Casa da Serra, an interpretation centre of Serra do Caldeirão, which should open before the end of this year. This is one of the most important investments for promoting interest in the Caldeirão Tourist Route, a tourism development strategy for the mountainous area, regarded as crucial for enhancing the potential of these territories and fighting desertification,
The beginning of an archaeological study of the pre-history of São Brás de Alportel and the re-edition of the studies by José Dias Sancho are also some of the major achievements of this Council’s first year of office in the areas of culture and heritage.
It has been a year of continuous work and adaptation to the new realities and challenges, with local government actions being guided by rigour and planning, as confirmed by the 2021 Financial Yearbook of Portuguese Municipalities, mentioned by the mayor Vítor Guerreiro. Yet, the doors will always remain open for building a prosperous future and an active, healthy and inclusive community.