Mayor of Santarém, Mr. Ricardo Gonçalves: The cities do not live only on history and progress is essential for maintaining the life in the city

We live in the age of knowledge and what we do both on local and national level only makes sense if it can be shared and if we can all learn from good practices around

  • July 31, 2018 16:00
  • Author Olya Georgieva
Medium ricardo gon%c3%a7alves 2017 4
Source: Municipality of Santarem

Mr. Ricardo Gonçalves is the Mayor of Santarém since 2012. How did you manage to gain and keep the trust of the people?

The first four years have been budgetary consolidation and the current mandate marks the transition from a very complicated financial situation to a very stable one. Today we can say that we are a model of autarchic management. The Municipality of Santarém pays 12 days to its suppliers, has its consolidated accounts and works in a sustainable way only advancing projects that can effectively pay off and not compromising future generations. The Municipality today invests in the Municipality through a policy of proximity to its parishes, transferring to the Town Councils almost 1,115,000.00 Euros, for road conservation, repairing and maintaining schools and cleaning public spaces ensuring the fostering cooperation between the municipality and the parishes, with the aim to pursuit investments that increase the quality of life of the populations, particularly those residing in rural areas, promoting the approximation of municipal management to the municipalities and the equity in the distribution of the funds, enabling the homogeneous growth of the municipality.

 

Since your first term, you have begun a project to rehabilitate the Historic Center of Santarém. How do you manage to preserve the history of your city and at the same time to modernize it?

The heritage of a city represents the materialization of its history and cultural identity and of its collective memory, but the cities do not live only on history and progress is essential for maintaining the life in the city.

The renovation involves a reparation of buildings and, consequently, of the social and economic spheres. Reconstruction does not mean destruction, but a "habilitation", or in another words adaptation to new situations in terms of urban functionality. Special attention will be given to the rehabilitation process, with the adoption of rigorous methodologies, prepared teams, efficient partnerships and broad participation. Concerns with the historical-architectural heritage and with the maintenance of its integrity will always command the form of urban intervention in these places.

 

You want to affirm Santarém as a destination for Tourism, Culture and Leisure. Tell us more about the possibilities of tourism in your city.

Santarém has an absolutely privileged location in our country, just over half an hour from Lisbon and two hours from Oporto or Spain and with excellent road and rail access, offering a very appealing complement to the city of Lisbon that suffers every time because of the tourist pressure. We are developing a Strategic Plan for Tourism Valuation for the Municipality of Santarém, which will predict the structuring of the product /axis of the historical and cultural heritage as an anchor of the process of management of the tourist visitation of the city of Santarém and above all of its historical center. We are still advancing with several projects of requalification of the Historical Center that aim the tourist capacity of the city.

In Santarém the possibilities are numerous and we must highlight the enormous wealth of historical and cultural heritage. Santarém is the city with the highest number of monuments classified (or being classified) per square meter, and continues to prove itself as an archeology laboratory of international importance and maintains a privileged historical relationship with Brazil, since Pedro Álvares Cabral lived his last years and this is where the remains of the Portuguese navigator rest. It is also worth highlighting the undeniable potential of the municipality for the development of nature tourism activities - we have here the first and only underground station to monitor the cave fauna of Continental Portugal - and Enogastronomic tourism - Santarém is where the largest and oldest National Gastronomic Festival is organized in the last 38 years – and of course Religious Tourism - Santarém is part of the Cathedrals Route, has a Diocesan Museum recognized as one of the best on European level and has the Portuguese religious sanctuary with greater projection visited by more than 15 000 pilgrims a year of which 80% are foreigners.

 

The Municipality of Santarém is creating 520 jobs per year and is below the national average rate of unemployment. Two years ago the municipality in partnership with NERSANT - Business Association of the Region of Santarém started the Business Innovation Center "Startup Santarém". Tell us more about this initiative and the results achieved so far?

Startup Santarém aims to support entrepreneurs in the processes of accelerating business projects that they develop - from idea to business - and in obtaining financing, proposing operationalization and market entry, faster and guaranteed support in the first years of implementation and consolidation.

The idea arose from a need to attract new businesses to the district and Santarém, and because of its strategic position and capital, was considered as the right host for the development of the initiative.

Today we are recognized as the municipality of the region where the major part of the companies were created in the last four years and Startup Santarém has had a prominent role in this growth, providing an indelible basis for the creation of new businesses, both with regard to the provision of physical infrastructures high quality, and support for entrepreneurs with a wide range of consulting, mentoring and financing services, and much more from the maturing phase of the idea to the consolidation stage.

In two years, Startup Santarém helped for the creation of about 40 companies and was a national leader in the Vale Incubação (Incubation Valley), and the national entity to submit the largest number of applications, which resulted in the approval of 18 of the 98 submitted on a national level.

The Municipality intends to continue this fruitful partnership with Nersant, continuing to Startup in the same succesful path as until now.

 

You declared that you believe that Santarém will be one of the cities that will develop the most in the coming decades. Tell us more about what you have achieved so far in this direction and what do you plan to do?

We are working on two major vectors for sustainable growth in Santarém: attracting investment and securing people. We recently adopted a regulation to support and encourage business activity and investments, in order to promote development, support business recruitment and business creation and employment. The establishment of this regulation arises from the need and the intention to encourage business investment in the municipality of Santarém, namely all the investment that is relevant to sustainable development, as well as for the creation and maintenance of jobs, based on qualification, innovation and technology.

This is a municipality with enormous potential and dynamism in sectors such as agriculture and agribusiness (sectors in which the region is a leader at national level), but also in sectors such as light metalworking, tanneries, extraction of stone, forest and paper, energy or waste treatment and, compared to Lisbon, has a competitive advantage in the region's access to the Portugal 2020 Funds, an investment support that is extremely important.

In the vector of the supporting the people we bet on the quality of life that Santarém has to offer, we have all kinds of services (in Health, Education, Sport, Culture), we provide the qualification of our human resources through the provision of professional and higher education on a high level in our municipality, and increasingly, we attract keep cadres from outside the region.

We are sure that, by consolidating these two vectors together with the growth of tourism, which forms the third strategic vector, Santarém will be one of the fastest growing Municipalities in our country in terms of attracting visitors.

 

What are the main goals and ideas you intend to develop in the near future?

Given to the difficult situation in which the Municipality was when we arrived at the City Hall, we defined very clear our objectives of the budgetary consolidation with two purposes, to start lowering Municipal taxes and to acquire a financial situation that would allow us to use community frameworks, two purposes that we have successfully fulfilled. We have lowered the municipal property tax in the previous term and will lower it again in 2019 by creating a positive impact on the family budgets of our citizens; we have negotiated a package of EU funds,18 million Euros that allow us to design the investment future plan until 2022.

The Municipality will carry out in the coming years various structural works for the city, namely the program for stabilization of the city's slopes and the recovery of buildings and public spaces, such as the reconstruction of the Municipal Market, an important pole of tourist attraction due to its high architectural value, the restoration of the former Practical Cavalry School in Santarém, a privileged space within the city of Santarém where we intend to create the April Museum and the Universal Values ​​(a project that dignifies the values ​​of the common good, to the detriment of the individual, the values ​​of Democracy, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity) and a Gastronomy Observatory that will reinforce the city's strategic position in the Gastronomic panorama of the country as a national gastronomy capital, among others that we are now structuring.

 

What do you think about a unified platform for European municipalities and its main goal to make and keep European citizens better informed about what is taking place in the European Union?  How can this platform be useful for your projects?

We live in the age of knowledge and what we do both on local and national level only makes sense if it can be shared and if we can all learn from good practices around and ensure that we continue our path towards sustainability. This platform allows direct contact between those responsible for the management of our cities and the citizens of the entire European Union, assuming the undoubted value of building a better Europe.