Published on the Malta Independent on 10th September, 2006
The Coalition of Environment NGOs held a press conference yesterday to protest against the environmental problems that threaten to beset the north of Malta and Gozo.
Members of the various groups spoke about the ongoing or proposed developments at Ta’ Cenc, Wied tal-Madonna in Mellieha, Hondoq ir-Rummien, the Xaghra l-Hamra golf course and the proposed road in Manikata.
Mellieha residents and representatives from Ghaqda Wied il-Madonna spoke out against the danger Wied il-Madonna in Mellieha would be exposed to if applications made by two developers were granted.
Mellieha resident Stephanie Agius said the valley is threatened by two pending applications lodged with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA).
The first application requests an extension to an existing hotel that includes the construction of 12 conference rooms, flats and multi-storey car park, and provision for future access to a public car park.
The second application by another developer wants permission to demolish an existing building and reconstruct 18 flats across the valley with a complete disregard of the building line. Ms Agius pointed out that buildings in the area are one storey from street level, two storeys below street level and not more than 60 feet from the road.
She added that one of the developers has built a temporary road at the back of the hotel that cuts across the valley and is used by the hotel for services and maintenance.
“An enforcement notice was issued by MEPA but was never imposed,” said Ms Agius. She claimed the developer dumped concrete blocks, rubble and placed air-conditioning split units on the side of the temporary road.
“To make matters worse, these proposals are being considered by the MEPA board notwithstanding the various policies and reports, which verify the considerable amount of rain and water that runs through the valley,” said Ms Agius.
Spokesman for the Committee to Safeguard Rural Life in Ghajn Tuffieha Mario Cardona said government proposals for the construction of a golf course and motorway in Manikata will destroy acres of fertile arable land and archaeological remains.
“The proposed golf course will negatively affect about 30 tenant farmers on government-owned fields, as it has robbed them of their lands,” said Mr Cardona. “The authorities also withdrew the tenancy of two other families who still live in a government-owned farmhouse.”
The proposed Manikata bypass will destroy prime irrigated farmland, which cost the farmers thousands of liri to install.
However, Mr Cardona stated that there are several rumours that both projects will be scrapped.
He appealed to the authorities to take a clear stand and state their decision on both issues.
“It is immoral to play with the farmers’ livelihood for PR purposes and electoral calculations,” said Mr Cardona. “This is a dirty game being played purely in the interest of the ruling party.”
He added that the farmers had been told that the government was having second thoughts on the Manikata bypass. However, “Minister for Roads Jesmond Mugliett said the bypass would only be scrapped if a new viable alternative is found.”
David Pisani from Moviment Harsien Hondoq spoke out against the proposed Qala Creek project, which includes a yacht marina, a 170-bedroom hotel, 25 villas, 60 apartments, 200 residences, 10 shops, five restaurants and 731 parking spaces.
Mr Pisani said the project will ruin the beach and clear waters of Hondoq ir-Rummien.
“All the rubble and excavated rock will be transported through Qala, as according to the developers’ studies it is not viable to use sea transport. Apart from all the dust and inconvenience it will cause to Qala residents, it is calculated that traffic will increase to approximately 2,000 vehicles a day, destroying the peace.”
Mr Pisani added that Moviment Harsien Hondoq wishes to see the quarry converted into a national park as was listed on the Gozo national plan a few years ago.
Ramblers Association secretary Alex Vella said it is a national scandal that Parliament omitted to include Ta’ Cenc in the Natura 2000 network when all reports commissioned by independent bodies were in favour of inclusion.
“Because of this omission, Ta’ Cenc lost substantial EU funds for career opportunities in rural development for a national park at Ta’ Cenc. The national park would create career opportunities for rangers, planners, technicians, ecologists and archaeologists among others,” he said.
Sannat residents and the local council made it very clear from the very beginning that they were against the project, said Mr Vella.
The proposed Ta’ Cenc project will not create more employment for Gozitans, he said. “It will only create more menial jobs for Gozitans while discouraging tourists who come to Gozo to find peace and nature.”
Flimkien ghall-Ambjent Ahjar spokesperson Astrid Vella said MEPA has plenty of “excellent regulations which unfortunately are only picked and chosen at whim, and interpreted according to the will of powers that be”.