SOS Hondoq News

Thursday, July 24, 2008

True green all the way

Published on The Times of Malta on Tuesday 23rd July, 2008 by Charles Sammut.

It is indeed remarkable that an Irish national like James A. Tyrrell (July 16) can see through the efforts of the Minister of Gozo to bamboozle the Gozitans when she launched the Gozo Eco-Island campaign and, yet, many fail to do so. I wonder how much partisan politics are behind this reaction.

Eco-island indeed when the sword of Damocles is constantly hanging over Ħondoq ir-Rummien and Ramla Bay. Minister Giovanna Debono kept referring to the pending scientific study about the ecological ramifications a marina and condominia would have on Ħondoq. As if the outcome of this study is in any doubt!

In my opinion, if she were really serious in her desire to protect the Gozitan environment, she would have ruled out any development once the study predicted doom and gloom to the environment. She did not even say that.

Of course, a person seriously in favour of protecting and preserving the little undisturbed landscape left on Gozo would have proclaimed these areas as "untouchable" and that development would take place "over my dead body".

That is my idea of a real stand-out friend of the environment.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saving Hondoq ir-Rummien

Published on on Wednesday 2nd July, 2008 by Desmond Zammit Marmara'.

The case of the proposed development at Hondoq ir-Rummien, an ODZ (Outside Development Zone) area in Gozo, is very worrying because this is a case where the wishes of the local inhabitants of the village of Qala are being blatantly disregarded and the environment raped under the futile excuse of providing opportunities for employment for Gozitans. Furthermore, this is a prime example of unsustainable development.

The Island of Gozo is much sought after by both Maltese and foreigners because it is one of the few remaining places in Europe where one can enjoy complete tranquillity in an unspoilt environment. Hondoq ir-Rummien comprises a coastal area of magnificent open countryside as well as the beautiful Hondoq Bay which is renowned for its clean and crystalline water. All this is now threatened by a proposed development plan to build a five-star hotel with 170 beds, approximately 25 Self-Catering Villas, 60 Self-Catering Units, 200 Multi-Ownership Residences, 731 Underground Parking Spaces (with only 90 allowed for public use), 10 Retail Units, 5 Dining Facilities and a Marina accommodating between 100 to 150 vessels, depending on the size of the latter.

The proposed development will irretrievably ruin the environment in the Hondoq ir-Rummien area and create problems for the residents of Qala. An increase in the volume of land and sea traffic and related pollution problems, the defacement of the beautiful countryside, the end of tranquillity and peace in the area are among the unwelcome consequences of such a development.

Now, it has been announced that the Qala Local Council has successfully applied to the Government for a grant to finance a study to counteract what is being proposed by developers for Hondoq ir-Rummien. The Council has, in fact, been granted €10,000 for a technical study. This brings us to the crux of the argument against such unsustainable development in Gozo : the disregarding of the views of the local inhabitants, i.e. the villagers of Qala.

One must point out that 85 % of Qala residents voted against the proposed development in a referendum held in 2002. This is an important point because what we have here are the rights of local citizens being trampled upon by the high and mighty. Please don’t give me the nonsensical argument that the project is worthwhile because it will create employment opportunities. There are various other ways to create employment in Gozo without destroying the local environment and disrupting local citizens’ way of life.

It is indeed gratifying to note the efforts of Qala Labour Councillor Paul Buttigieg to safeguard the rights of the citizens of his locality. The new Labour Leader, Joseph Muscat, has also publicly declared that he is against the proposed development at Hondoq ir-Rummien.

We have to send a clear message to all concerned that development which destroys the natural environment, including the flora and fauna of the area, and disrupts the traditional lifestyle of local villagers on the pretext of long-term benefits for the community is utterly unacceptable. The reality is that it is the developers who stand to benefit most from such projects while the social costs have to be borne by the local residents as well as present and future generations of Maltese who will be deprived of one of the few remaining oases of peace and natural beauty in the Maltese Islands.

Ramla appeal hearing: ‘Would they have been so considerate with a commoner?’ – AD spokesman

Published on The Malta Independent by Francesca Vella.

It does make you wonder, particularly considering the hassles one has to go through every day when it comes to bureaucratic matters, especially legal matters.

In any event, the Ramla l-Hamra saga goes on. The government wants to turn Gozo into an ecological island and a tourist destination with a difference. And yet speculators, in Gozo especially, have the power to do what they fancy, depending on the depth of their pockets.

Ramla l-Hamra, Ta’ Cenc, Hondoq ir-Rummien... they are certainly all places with the potential to make Gozo an ecological island par excellence – but does the ecological value of these places really come before everything else? Does anything ever stand in the face of speculators’ greed?

To view the whole article, go to

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gozo Minister grilled at eco island project launch

Published on The Times of Malta on Saturday 12th July, 2008 by Mark Micallef.

Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono yesterday launched the consultation process for the government's eco island project to a grilling by environmentalists present, who insisted that action should complement the rhetoric.

The launch, held at the picturesque Lunzjata valley in the limits of Victoria, was clearly aimed at highlighting the island's assets but even on this point, Miriam Cremona, from the Valletta Rehabilitation Project, pointed out the gold-coloured aluminium door and notice board fixed to the mediaeval chapel behind the minister, to stress the need for an aggressive effort to educate but also to enforce.

The minister was asked about the stand the Gozo Ministry took on a number of environmentally-controversial projects, such as the application for a marina and a hotel in Ħondoq ir-Rummien and the revived proposal for a tourist complex at Ta' Ċenċ.

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar coordinator Astrid Vella insistently asked whether the Gozo Ministry would be supporting the proposals which the Qala local council will be making for adjustments to the local plans making it more difficult for projects like the one at Ħondoq ir-Rummien to go through.

In her response, Mrs Debono kept referring to the money the government had given the council recently to carry out scientific studies with which to fight the project. However, she would not take a stand on the changes to the local plans.

"I am all for carrying out scientific studies but I will not be drawn into giving my opinion on such a matter. I would rather we have a study first," she said, even after Ms Vella pointed out that the study being carried out had nothing to do with the changes to the local plan.

Similarly, she would not be drawn into commenting on controversial decisions made by Mepa, saying it was "unethical" for ministers to publicly contradict decisions made by regulators. "I think ministers need to respect the decisions made by authorities," she said.

The consultation process on the eco island concept, one of the PN's main electoral promises, will end in September, after which a draft strategy for Gozo will be developed.

Another final consultation process will then follow, after which the strategy will be launched officially by the end of the year, the minister said.

Gozo has already made great strides on the environmental front, she insisted, mentioning, among others, the closure of the incinerator at the island's abattoir and the Qortin landfill as examples. "Until recently nobody would have imagined that this would be possible," she said.

Referring to "sceptical people" who have so far commented cynically on the eco island concept, she said in her speech, delivered before fielding questions, that "those who have not seen the improvements I have mentioned, must not be living in Malta".

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Lesson in environmental protection from the US

Published on The Times of Malta on Monday 7th July, 2008 by Charles Sammut.

Politicians in Malta do not hesitate in claiming that they want to protect the environment. However Mepa, appointed as the environmental watchdog, has had no qualms in the past in issuing permits in sensitive areas that needed to be protected.

Here in the US the State of Florida has taken action in protecting the Everglades. The Everglades is a 50-mile-wide, slow-moving river full of saw grass, which is why it is nicknamed the River of Grass. In one of the biggest conservation deals in US history, the State of Florida has reached a tentative agreement to buy nearly 300 square miles of real estate from US Sugar's holdings, which is the largest producer of sugar in the US.

Under the deal, the state would buy US Sugar's holdings in the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, including its cane fields, mill and railroad line. US Sugar would be allowed to farm the 187,000 acres for six more years, after which it would go out of business. The state would then protect the land from development, which has been encroaching on the Everglades for decades.

We all know that "actions speaks louder than words". The State of Florida took the initiative to protect its natural heritage. Whereas in Malta speculators buy land in ODZ's like Ħondoq ir-Rummien and Ramla l-Ħamra and then roll the dice and hope that Mepa will grant them the permit to build their projects. Instead of the government buying that land and consolidating and protecting the natural treasure it hesitates and does not say a resounding no and many times acquiesces to the greedy developer.

Some contrasting actions! One government body made sure that a precious area is forever saved and in Malta instead of saying no to exploiting the environment the government allocates funds to have a study done on the impact of the proposed Ħondoq project. When one has to rely on a study to see whether a project would be detrimental to the environment, one cannot be taken seriously as far as environmental issues go. The promises during the election campaign were just that; hollow promises to attract more votes.

It is about time that the Malta government gets a hint from the State of Florida and protects the few public areas left that only a tiny minority want to develop for personal gain with total disregard to the vast majority's wishes. Just plain lip service has never solved anything. Actually there is a precedent that took place at a location at Nadur. A vacant lot was turned into a public promenade by the Ministry of Gozo guaranteeing that the owner of the property across would never have his view blocked.

Proving that where there is a will there is always a way.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Obvious to tourists but not to politicians

Published on The Times of Malta on Wednesday 2nd July, 2008 by Charles Sammut.

The following comment was posted in The New York Times website on June 26 by one David Farnham, a recent visitor to Malta, in response to a very interesting piece in the Travel Section about Malta:

"Last month, I took my wife and three children to Malta for a week. Your story brought back some wonderful memories which are still very fresh in my mind. All you've said about Malta is true, but there is another side to the country which was particularly disturbing to me. The rampant, unchecked development of massive concrete holiday flats all over the island is ruining the place. There is very little oversight and many of the architectural gems throughout the country are rapidly being eclipsed by these new developments. You were right to stay in Gozo - much quieter!" I guess Mr Farnham said it all... why Lawrence Gonzi wants to spend €10,000 for a study on the ecological impact of the proposed Ħondoq development is hard to figure out. The Maltese islands need conservation and not more ugly concrete blocks. Funny how an American visitor figured this out in a second and yet the local politicians do not seem to have a clue.