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Panorama Inforegio

The quarterly magazine of the actors of regional development


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Lisbon and the Tagus Valley
A varied region with high development potential

Portugal assumed the revolving presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2000. It was also one of the first Member States to officially launch its latest Objective 1 strategy. Between 2000 and 2006, the Union will contribute EUR 20 535 million to the aid plan for the Portuguese regions whose per capita GDP is less than 75% of the Community average.
All Portuguese regions are eligible, except for Lisbon and the Tagus Valley, whose economic indicators have improved so much that the region cannot be included in Objective 1. The region will benefit from transitional aid, however, enabling it to consolidate its gains and to continue its development efforts.

Its shoreline hugging the Atlantic, Lisbon and the Tagus Valley is a region of many contrasts. Upriver, the Tagus provides the region with fertile soils that encourage agriculture. Lisbon and its immediate hinterland by contrast concentrate on service sector activities. The demographic imbalance is also striking. The capital and its ring of suburbs make up 25% of the region's land area, but account for 75% of its population. The Lisbon area is dominated by the services sector and activities connected with health, teaching, research and culture. The proximity of the sea and the importance of the port further enhance the city, which is also the political, economic and financial decision-making centre. Moreover, the region's historical and natural heritage encourages the development of tourism. These assets offer the region remarkable economic potential.

A gradual improvement in employment

In 1998 the regional unemployment rate reached 6.1%. This has however progressed strongly in the last few years, and now exceeds the national average. The number of 14 to 24 year-olds in education developed positively between 1992 and 1995 but then added to the mass of job seekers. This trend is now going the other way, slightly. Youth employment is improving, as is the educational level of the unemployed in the 14-24 age bracket. Between 2000 and 2006, employment levels are expected to grow by 1.7%.

The region has 3.5 million inhabitants, or 35% of the national population. Despite the general ageing of the population, numbers continue to rise - the capital city exerts a powerful force of attraction. Migrants both from within Portugal and from abroad converge on Lisbon. Although average monthly income in the city exceeds the national average by 35%, the inhabitants' standard of living is only slightly higher than the rest of the country's.

Problem areas

A number of problems are hampering the development of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley, however. The transport infrastructure in the capital and its hinterland is congested, complicating access to work, increasing the cost of travel and the time it takes, reducing leisure time and damaging the environment. The environment, and the potential for tourism, also suffer from badly managed regional planning. There is insufficient provision of transport, teaching, health, communications and water treatment infrastructure in the rural areas. These difficulties have to be taken into account if the progress achieved is not to be undermined and the region's economic potential weakened.

The Objective 1 strategy in Portugal

The development strategy negotiated by the Portuguese government and the European Commission sets out the objectives underpinning the development measures that will be implemented this year and over the next 6 years. This plan (called the Community Support Framework, or CSF for short) will receive a contribution from the Structural Funds of EUR 20 535 million between 2000 and 2006.

The Objective 1 CSF lays down 4 priorities:

  • To increase the skills level of the population and to promote employment and social cohesion
  • To prepare productive sectors for working methods of the future
  • To exploit to the full the national territory and the country's geo-economic position
  • To encourage sustainable regional development and national cohesion

In the long term, the measures should generate:

  • a 2.1% increase in Portuguese GDP;
  • a 2.5% increase in imports;
  • 80 000 new jobs.

The CSF will be implemented through 19 programmes focusing on individual sectors such as employment, education, health, agriculture, etc. There are also seven regional programmes (North, Central Portugal, Alentejo, the Algarve, Lisbon, the Azores and Madeira).

Ring-road relief!

1985, Lisbon, 7 a.m., a Monday just like any other. The Tagus is woken up by a low rumbling sound. The city is invaded by machine after polluting machine. Its arteries clog up. Congestion ensues. The capital is unable to absorb the extra traffic. Only a small secondary ring road then existed to relieve - insofar as it could - the urban road network. The capital's road network is shaped like a star, with the heart of the city at its centre. This radial structure and the lack of relief roads or access to the major arteries quickly led to strangulation.

The local authorities, the road management companies and the public transport companies accordingly decided to launch an ambitious investment plan to equip greater Lisbon with a modern road network. This network had to be able to divert traffic, redistribute its flow and provide better access to the neighbouring municipalities. Construction of the CREL was launched. This is an outer ring road around greater Lisbon, linking into the primary routes to north Portugal and Cascais and providing the adjacent municipalities with many points of access. The total cost of the project amounted to EUR 224.184 million. The European Union, through the Cohesion Fund, contributed EUR 103.284 million.

The work, which involved laying almost 35 km of bitumen, allowed the first cars to roll along its ribbon of asphalt - at a maximum speed of 100 kmh - in September 1995.
Air quality and sound levels were taken into consideration during building.

The Cohesion Fund financed an environmental impact statement. The road was equipped with numerous anti-noise barriers, to limit decibel levels. Viaducts were the preferred choice for valley crossings where fill work was too cumbersome or inappropriate from an ecological viewpoint. Two tunnels were also dug, the first to preserve dinosaur imprints discovered during the study phase, the second to protect historical monuments.



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