Building restrictions in Portugal

Portugal’s three levels of land development and protection plans.

Building restrictions in the past

In the old days “before 1994” we were used that planning consent could be obtained on nearly every plot of land as long as it had a kind of approval of the local Ministry of Agriculture that part of the land could be used for the construction of a house. This way most of the time we could apply to have 200 – 400m² of the land to be excluded from it agriculture classification. This document was normally good enough for the Bank of Portugal to give permission to import the necessary funds to purchase the property by a foreigner.

Building restrictions today

Now nearly 70% of the land in Portugal is either a “classified” area or even worse part of the REN (Reserva Ecológica Nacional)".

Getting planning consent to build in one of these areas is a complicated puzzle and so difficult that local authorities do not even know what is and what isn’t possible.

There are in Portugal now 3 levels of land development and protection plans:

  1. The national plan
  2. The sector-based plans and
  3. The special plans.

At a regional level we have the PROT and at local level the Inter-municipal and Municipal plans, including the PDM (Planos Directores Municipais), the PU (Planos Urbanização en de PP (Planos Promenor).

On top of that there is legislation dealing with the protected areas, such as coastlines (POOC) and public reservoirs (Barragems).

All these plans constrict the public services but only the Municipal and Special plans apply to individuals.

Classified areas are parts of the country with a natural historic value. What they all have in common is that in all these areas the occupation and use of land is liable to restrictions.

The amount of land that falls under these restricted areas is immense and includes wildlife protection zones, national listed sites and protected area. (in total some 20% of Portugal) The REN occupies another approx. 50% or more. In the REN area the laws are so restrictive that even the authorities admit that people abandon these areas as it is no longer economical feasible for them to live there. In fact in the Algarve Tavira and Monchique have some 85% of their council covered by REN and in these areas are many old farmhouses exist which owners want to restore or foreigners want to buy with a view of doing the same. Many of these houses are very small and extending them is necessary however according to the rules of the REN this is not possible. The Ministry is aware of this situation and they are looking for a solution, especially because many of these projects do not cause environmental problems.

Aljezur id for example one of the councils heavily affected by these classified areas and most of the time fall into a kind of double protection area. Even the construction of a garage or pool is not permitted and it is hard to explain that to people.

And the restrictions imposed by the protection plans are not the only problem as we are only in the first generation of land development and protection plans. Therefore sometimes there are planning conflicts due to the lack of co-ordination between the several plans. For example a PDM (local planning consent) may authorise a certain claim that is not feasible because another plan, which supersedes the local plan, established different regulations.

Hopefully the above makes it clear that one has to be extremely cautious if somebody tells you that building will not be a problem. Very seldom ma faith is in play but just ignorance of what is possible.

Generally spoken an architect in conjunction with the architect of a town council should be able to tell you what is and what is not possible.

Most of the time you will be advised to get the opinion of the Camâra in writing by means of what is known as a declaração Prévia or Viabilidade de construção, which means as much that the town council in which you pretend to build allows what you have applied for.

Do not be surprised if I tell you that sometimes approval from the town council was obtained to find out later that they should not have given it.

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