As an industrialized municipality, how will the region reconcile industrial development with the need for environmentally sustainable industries?
In the current economic and social paradigm, the concept of environmental sustainability is no longer seen as a cost, but is seen as a competitive advantage. The new generations, who are the consumers of the future, have a very high level of awareness and demand with regard to sustainability. We believe that the natural development of the markets will put pressure on the necessary evolution of mentalities, particularly at the level of decision-makers. At the municipal level, the Municipalities must guide and lead the change processes towards sustainable and balanced models of consumption and relationship with the environment.
The bet on public transport, with an emphasis on renewable energies, in a new organization of public space that facilitates the transition to models of smooth mobility, are some of the examples of the work that the Municipalities are already implementing.
Which industries is the region saying "no" to and which ones would you like to have based in the county?
Currently, the sectors that we consider most attractive are those of technologies and innovation, as they represent marginally the answer to a major problem that Portuguese society faces, ie the aging of the population. If we manage to create a base of companies in these areas in the region, we believe that we will have better conditions to attract and retain young talents, which will contribute to the reversal of the aging trend that, in general, affects the whole country.
On the other hand, this is a region that has always been characterized by great diversity at the business level, something that we value for raising our resilience capacity in a situation of economic crisis. For this reason, we are open to diversity, but we especially value companies that respect environmental values and assume their social responsibility.
What is the role of the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria (IPL) in launching ideas for startups?
The Polytechnic of Leiria is the main source of science and wisdom in this region and, therefore, has an invaluable role for our community, as this is the most valuable resource we can have. More than its importance in launching ideas for startups, I highlight the role it plays in providing highly qualified resources to our business fabric and its contribution to raising our competitive level. For this reason, we are strongly committed to supporting the Polytechnic of Leiria in its process of growth and affirmation, namely in its founded aspiration to be recognized as a University, an imperative that we assume in defense of the future of the region. This step will be decisive for the realization of the vision that we aspire for in the territory, which we want leveled by a high level of human resources training, attractive and with a strong technological appetite.
Can IPL and other educational bodies promote the creation of a mini-cluster at higher education level with the capacity to attract foreign students?
That already happens. The Polytechnic of Leiria already has, among its students, a very considerable percentage of students from geographies as varied as Asia or Latin America. This is further evidence of the quality of its training model, which has been validated at the highest level recently with its choice to lead a new European University, the Regional University Network, approved by the European Commission, including higher education institutions in Ireland, Hungary , Finland, Holland and Austria, in addition to Portugal.
Tourism is a core piece in the region's growth. Bearing this in mind, what is the weight of the Fatima Shrine and what activities may be developed based on religious tourism?
The Sanctuary of Fátima is effectively the main anchor for attracting visitors to the region. In 2019, Fatima received 6,3 million pilgrims. In addition to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Poland, the United States and Brazil are the countries most represented, but we have also seen a strong growth in the number of visitors from Asia. The great challenge is to increase the length of stay of pilgrims in this territory, for which it is necessary to find programs that complement and enhance the very diverse offer that this region has.
In the case of Leiria, we are strongly committed to enhancing the attractiveness of our territory by raising the qualitative level of our cultural offer. We recall that we led an application from this region to the European Capital of Culture in 2027, but we are also committed to the preservation and enhancement of our heritage. A clear example of this strategy is the huge investment that we are making in the requalification of the castle of Leiria, with a set of works, estimated at 3,8 million euros, with the objective of making this magnificent monument more accessible and inclusive, preserving and creating new features in the space, without pinching its patrimonial and historical aspect.
We are certain that this monument, which will have a cultural offer of excellence after its reopening, will be a very strong attraction factor for visitors to our municipality, with undeniable added value for the local economy.
What does Leiria lack to have an aerodrome with capacity for medium passenger planes? Is it possible to take advantage of the Monte Real air base, opening it up to civil aviation? Are negotiations in progress? If so, where are they at?
The bet of the Municipality of Leiria and the other entities in this region is towards opening the Monte Real Air Base to civil aviation, as has been widely reported. This claim was welcomed by the Government, which is studying the possibility of opening the Monte Real military base to civil aviation.
The overwhelming majority of the living forces in the Centro region have already expressed themselves in favor of Monte Real airport as the most feasible and realistic solution, and one that can make an effective and efficient contribution to regional and national development. We do not advocate megalomaniacal projects, but a rational solution, tailored to the real needs of this region. We believe that the realization of this project will be decisive to overcome the challenges of the future, namely for the affirmation of the competitive level of our business fabric and attracting tourists.
What impact is the Covid-19 pandemic having on the various industries in the Leiria region? Which exports and services are being most affected?
This region is giving an extraordinary response in the pandemic context. From the first hour, companies realized the urgency to reinvent themselves and adapt to the new context. Several companies have since moved on to the production of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, but there is no denying that the impact of this pandemic will be transversal to all areas of activity. Companies that work for foreign markets, namely the molds sector, are currently experiencing a phase of uncertainty, as they are naturally dependent on whatever the evolution of the world economy is, which we wish to be able to return to normal as soon as possible .
What has been done and is being done to relaunch the affected industries?
In a first phase, the Municipality of Leiria assumed the role of stimulating and encouraging the conversion of a group of companies that adjusted part of their productive capacity to the needs created by the pandemic, namely in the production of goods for the health and protection sector. We are also helping to leverage the small, more traditional economy by creating platforms that have helped many of our SMEs to go digital. We have created with great success a platform for the Municipal market of Leiria, with online store and delivery services for the small agriculture sector, and we are developing a set of initiatives to stimulate local consumption, in order to restore the pace of the economy.
From the point of view of developing a more in-depth response strategy to the current context, the Economic and Social Office of the Leiria Region (GESRL) was created, which prepared a short and medium-term action plan, with the contribution of 10 Working Groups, in which personalities and entities, public and private, participate.
This plan, based on 36 measures, is based on six strategic objectives: to promote social cohesion and employment; guarantee individual and collective protection; strengthen the training of health and education services; encourage and enhance business activities; enhance collaborative, identity and regional cohesion networks; and reinforce the digitalization of the region. The GESRL was created as a result of a memorandum of understanding between a group of entities with relevant activities in the Region of Leiria - CIMRL (Intermunicipal Community of the Region of Leiria), Polytechnic of Leiria and NERLEI (Business Association of the Region of Leiria). It aims to develop a “Plan of Measures for the New Economic and Social Launch of the Leiria Region”, with the involvement of personalities and entities, public and private, in the process of discussing, defining, planning and executing the measures.
This office will continue its evolutionary work to monitor the economic and social implications of the pandemic context, seeking to propose measures to respond to this economic and social crisis and make the region more resilient to similar crises in the future.
How did the containment obligations with citizens and companies go, and how is the compliance with the current rules on gatherings and protection in closed places going on?
In the case of Leiria, the population has given, with rare exceptions, an absolutely exemplary answer. In fact, the low number of cases registered in this municipality, taking into account its population, results from this sense of responsibility that the people of Leiria assumed from the first hour, strictly following the recommendations of the health authorities. The Municipality of Leiria spared no effort in this field. We invested in massive awareness campaigns, developed strategies and action plans in order to protect the fringes of our population in the most fragile situation, namely seniors and the sick. The distribution of protective equipment to institutions and the population, the creation of support mechanisms for people who suddenly lost part or even all of their income, were some of the areas in which we deposited our energy and resources, in order to guarantee a effective and timely response to the many challenges that the pandemic has posed and continues to present.
At the environmental level, what are the biggest concerns in the region? Industrial waste? Gases? Fires? How are you doing rehabilitation of the pine forest after the fires?
This region faces some challenges at the environmental level, which we assume as priorities, in order to guarantee an ever better quality of life for our population. Regarding the issue of the treatment of industrial waste, I believe that the emphasis will have to be placed on the need to see this waste as by-products, and find solutions that can give it an appropriate end within the scope of the circular economy concept. This region has been dealing with the issue of pig effluents for many decades, and work is being carried out, in conjunction with the Government, to find a solution for the treatment and recovery of these effluents.
We are also committed to preventing this region from being targeted for hydrocarbon prospecting, meeting what the population wants, and above all the need to follow a global strategy to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energies.
As for the question of the recovery of national forests devastated by fires, we argue that a strategy must be taken, with coherence and great determination, to rescue one of the most important elements of identity in this region. The Municipality of Leiria has carried out, with the collaboration of the population and various civil society entities, several reforestation actions. We understand that the responsibility must be assumed by the Government, owner of most of the burnt area, but we are available to collaborate on solutions that contribute effectively to the recovery of this heritage that belongs to everyone.