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Posted by portugalpress on August 06, 2015
“Illegal” buildings – apartment blocks 4 and 5
An entire apartment building in Olhos de Água, as well as the top floor of another one right alongside, must come down, Loulé court has ruled. Householders have joined forces to fight the order.
Affected property owners Rui Santos and Andreia Guerreiro

It is the latest demolition threat to hit the Algarve, and this one penalises only innocent parties: unwitting residents who thought they had purchased legal homes for sums of between €100,000 to €150,000, and a council executive that had nothing to do with any of it. The ‘villains of the piece’ – alleged to have bent planning regulations and even offered incentives to “look the other way” – are ostensibly still laughing all the way to the bank.

In the thick of the controversy is former Albufeira mayor Desidério Silva – the man who was criticised for leaving his borough in "organisational chaos" after 12 years at the helm.

Predictably, all key players in this new scandal have refused to talk to the press. Despite repeated calls and emails right up until press day, the Resident had not heard from either Desidério Silva, now in charge of the Algarve tourism board (RTA), the builder who constructed the apartments that now face demolition, or the mayor who is being fined €750-a-month, along with every other member of his executive, until the court order to demolish is carried out.

We repeatedly explained that failure to answer basic questions would show local public administration to be on a par with dealings in the third world, but still right up until midday on Wednesday, we got nothing but stony silence.

The story broke over the weekend when national newspaper Diário de Notícias reported that an entire apartment building built over a decade ago in Olhos de Água, Albufeira – as well as the top floor of another one right alongside – must come down by order of Loulé’s administrative court.

The order was nothing “new”, the paper explained. It was seeking to reinforce a judicial decision taken four years previously in 2011 that was never communicated to the 66 householders involved.

The true horror of this situation is that families have been blithely unaware for years that their homes have been retrospectively ruled “illegal”.

They have continued paying IMI (rates) to the council with absolutely no knowledge that their properties faced demolition until letters giving them 120 days to vacate fell through their letterboxes last week.

Talking to Barlavento newspaper, the horrified householders are standing firm and will almost certainly be seeking a judicial embargo (providência cautelar).

As one explained, every single public authority has failed them, “even the courts”.

“We were never even informed of the court case,” Rui Santos told Barlavento. “It goes back to 2010…”

DN explains that legal precedent could well be on the residents’ side. In Viana do Castelo, for example, the 13-storey apartment block Prédio Coutinho was ordered to be demolished in 1975 – two years after it was built and inhabited by 300 people. Householders banded together to fight the order and their fight was eventually upheld by the Constitutional Court. As DN points out, the building is still standing today.

But the real issue here is how could this situation have been allowed to happen at all? And why are the only people “paying” for it those that hold none of the blame?

DN gives the background, outlining how the Roja Pé complex was originally designed to involve four buildings and a leisure area. There then came “a new request” to forget the leisure area and instead construct another building.

As the foundations of this fifth building began taking shape, local residents “interceded”, complaining to planning authority IGAT which led to an embargo on the work being put in place. This “situation was maintained for two years”, DN continues, “after which time the embargo was lifted”.

“A homeowner who did not want to be identified told DN that the builder had negotiated with the people who had complained to the effect that he would give them each an apartment if they looked the other way.”

“The council sanctioned the construction projects and then in 2005 it gave the green light to the (constructor’s) requests to alter the initial plans.

“The developer wanted and managed to construct more apartments,” explains the newspaper.

“The matter appeared to be closed,” it continued, “but the Public Ministry took the developer to Loulé Administrative and Fiscal court, contesting the legality of the way the council had proceeded.”

The court ruled that the extra apartments “violated” the town’s PDM (municipal plan).

“Sentencing for the case was passed in 2011, and enforced in 2013,” explains DN. “The court annulled the proceedings that had allowed alterations to the initial building licence (alvará)” and it also outlawed the developer’s “excessive” construction of an extra floor on the fourth apartment block.

“What is required now is that one block with 16 apartments and the top floor of the other block, with more than 12 apartments, are demolished,” DN stresses. “And for each day that the sentence is not complied with, the president and councillors pay each one €25 from their pockets.”

As the current mayor Carlos Sousa e Silva is quoted as telling the newspaper: “The demolition must go ahead. I already have some estimates for the work which come to around €500,000.”

Questioned as to “eventual compensation” for householders and families involved, he told DN: “It will be a very large amount, and we do not have the money to cover it in the council budget.”

The property owners involved will have “to look out for their own rights”, he stressed.

The Resident has tried to discover how mayor Silva e Sousa feels about being personally fined for every day that demolition does not go ahead – and we wanted to ask what he thought about the fact that the planning decision that caused this mess was made by a mayor who has “long gone”. But as we explained at the beginning of this story, all key players have remained zip-lipped.

As for Desidério Silva, this is yet another controversy marking his 12-year Albufeira mandate.

Earlier this year he was in court in Portimão over alleged crimes of prevarication and falsification of documents relating to another property (see story ‘Tourism boss in court over crimes of prevarication and falsification of documents’ at portugalresident.com). Talking to journalists camped outside Portimão court he said he had not committed any crimes and that his conscience was “clear”.

It was an almost verbatim explanation to the one he is understood to have given DN journalist Miguel Ferreira who glossed over the fact that Silva’s election to the top job at RTA was hotly contested.

His election saw only 18 of the 32 members voting in his favour.

As Lusa news agency reported at the time, five voted against him and seven left their voting slips blank.

Two members of the board (“representing Portugal’s second largest trade union and Lagos council”) failed altogether to turn up for the vote, added Lusa.

And when Silva swapped Albufeira for the RTA, the court decision ruling that Roja Pé’s 28 apartments had been constructed illegally had already been communicated to the council.

By NATASHA DONN natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

Photos: Sara Alves/Open Media Group

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