Following a letter by the World Heritage Centre of 19 November 2008, which requested information related to NGO reports on infrastructure development, the State Party provided a detailed response which was received by the World Heritage Centre on 19 February 2009. This provides information on a cable car project at the World Heritage property of the Laurisilva of Madeira prepared by the local authorities.
The report included a summary of the “integrated project for the valorisation of the area of Rabaçal”, as the cable car project is part of a broader initiative for conservation and sustainable use including eco-tourism. This project was entrusted to the Association for the Promotion of the Development of the Western Area (Sociedade Promotora de Desenvolvimento de Zona Oeste) as a part of the implementation of the Plan of the Autonomous Region of Madeira and the guidance by the Regional Plan for Environmental Policies. The report outlined the administrative framework, and the project orientations including architectural and material solutions. The project covers a small area at the outskirts of the World Heritage property. The proposal includes three stations (station A, B, C), two sections of cable car of 705 and 674m in length requiring four towers and four transport cabins for passengers (6,8 sqm) and cargo. The design aims to integrate each of the stations into the landscape. The intermediate station (station B) is to be implanted on an existing platform at Sitio do Rabaçal, and the lowest station was designed with a special shape following the terrain and using local stone material. Of the three stations, only one will be located within the boundaries of the property in an area which is a starting point for tourist activities (e.g. site visit, hiking, trekking, climbing, canyoeing). It currently lacks control of carrying capacity and support infrastructure and services (information, car parking, safety instructions). Station C is located in the vicinity of a dangerous water course where accidents occurred in the past. The project aims to improve the spatial organization and it also states that it will create the necessary infrastructure for environmental education, training and safety instructions.
The State Party reports that the project was prepared taking into account demanding environmental principles to reduce any potential negative impacts on the environment. It has also had to fulfil regional, national and European norms (e.g. European Union Evaluation Procedure of Environmental Impact) and has been subject to environmental evaluation procedures (PAI). The State Party notes that a favourable “Declaration of Environmental Impact” was obtained. It further notes that public consultation on environmental impacts were held and meetings with stakeholders concerned by the project. It seems that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property was not fully taken into account in the environmental and risk assessments including increased tourism pressure and potential increase in invasive species.
The report also suggests that the cable car will enhance the monitoring of the property, in particular surveillance of the forest through control points. It also states that it will enhance the access, infrastructure and visitor facilities required for the World Heritage property allowing access for about 500 tourists per day (April-October) and a total estimate of c.90,000 per year. It is also proposed to create an Interpretation Centre by improving the existing Casa de Abrigo do Rabaçal and to orient visitors (auditorium, library, shop, support services), and provide facilities for coordination and management.
The State Party report concludes that the cable car construction is only one of the actions undertaken to develop sustainable use of the property and the use of the natural resources, which also includes the reduction of car circulation and transport vans. The State Party also provided a copy of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) dated February 2008.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the detailed report but note that while environmental impact procedures were carried out to international standards, no direct mention is made to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and the protection of the key values and integrity of the property. The principal values of concern are those related to the inscription of the property under criteria (ix) and (x) related to ecosystems and threatened species. It should also be noted that the construction was commenced in early 2009. The State Party reacted rapidly to the request of the World Heritage Centre for information on the project providing all material available, and also invited a site visit to the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that a reactive monitoring mission may not be necessary at this stage if an additional rapid assessment including potential impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property is carried out.
IUCN also notes that a petition regarding to stop the construction of the cable car has been developed online, in November 2008, by the Association of the Friends for the National Park of Funchal, a local conservation NGO. This petition was reported online in the national media, for example the national newspaper Diario de Noticias.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note reports that the endemic Laurisilva pigeon are being culled. A response to these concerns was received from the State Party on 3 February 2009. The response satisfactorily demonstrated that the population of Laurisilva pigeon was not threatened by culling in agricultural areas and that there was no impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.