Monday, May 31, 2010
Anger in Qala
But since from the media present I was the only one who had been there in long-ago 2002, I could note certain important changes.
In 2002, the meeting was dominated by the clergy of the place. Yesterday only one priest was present and he spoke last. In 2002 no one from the village dared show he was in favour of the project under pain of being ostracised by the community. Yesterday, some pro-project voices were heard and there was a clear presence in the crowded hall of supporters of the project.
Again, while some pro-project speakers, notably Vince Farrugia whose intervention was punctuated by roars and protests, (leaving the hall, Mr Farrugia was attacked by a person from the crowd and suffered a small cut to the chin) clearly raised hackles, other pro-project speakers were heard out in silence and respect. Such was the case, for instance of Dr Gordon Cordina.
There was a bedrock of opposition to the project by the Qala residents but the focus of the opposition now centres on the yacht marina project, rather than the project as a whole. While some old-timers would want to retain everything as is, others are prepared to see the quarry in the bay cleaned up and something done about it, although the most that some could bring themselves to say was to suggest turning it into a park, just as the government is doing with Maghtab in Malta.
Many times, especially in the first hour or so, the meeting came dangerously close to developing into a fully-blown riot. First, far too many people turned up than the hall could hold, and people banged angrily at a panel of explanatory posters which stood in their way until this was removed to the back of the hall.
Then something quite serious happened: the meeting refused to allow anybody to speak in English, which is a pity because 10% of the Qala residents are foreign and many of these residents were actually in the hall to support the residents against the project. There was an almost corresponding xenophobic sentiment against the people from Malta, although on the boat coming back one could notice some of the most vociferous opponents coming back to Malta.
Visually, the television and maybe newspaper photo coverage would probably focus on an elderly white-haired woman who could not be kept down. She kept jumping up and shouting and not even a quiet word from the police inspector could calm her down. People said she used to be the locality’s headmistress. Then, in the midst of the mayhem, a burly policewoman strode into the room intent on grabbing the lady and pushing her out. Wiser counsels prevailed and suddenly the lady was told to sit next to me (I swear I had nothing to do with it) and she calmed down. Later she made a speech which was quite well-structured and she was heard in silence and applauded later.
At the beginning of proceedings, Qala councillor Paul Buttigieg showed an amateur video showing Hondoq as people know it. But without his realising it, some people who saw it commented later that this was precisely the no laws Hondoq that many people seem to want to preserve.
Astrid Vella from Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar focused on the Mepa process: when Mepa itself did an exercise to see if any yacht marina site could be found in Gozo, it studied 11 places but Hondoq was not among them. Mepa’s Natural Heritage Committee also did a report which was not included in the EIS. And as for Mepa monitoring, Ms Vella showed photos of what happened in Sliema (Portomaso) under Mepa monitoring.
Time and again the Portomaso history was resurrected since an ecological disaster happened when the sea was let into the dug-out bay and all careful preparations were swept aside and the local fauna, Posidonia Meadows just as there are outside Hondoq, became clouded. Edward Bencini, the Hondoq project architect, who had also been the Hilton architect, said that after some time the Posidonia Meadows had healed themselves and today the sea quality inside the Hilton artificial bay is so clean that big fish come and swim in and people swim just outside the entrance. The part regarding the Posidonia Meadows was vociferously contested by Alan Deidun.
The sea quality of Hondoq was time and again praised by many speakers and it was clear they were worried that allowing the bay to be dug up, just like the Hilton, could introduce alien pollution into the bay. One speaker even said the pollution from Hondoq might even pollute nearby Blue Lagoon in Comino.
Towards the end, a returned migrant, Joseph Galea from Ghajnsielem, who said he works in yachts, spoke of the danger of anti-fouling paint polluting the whole bay.
People also pooh-poohed the claim by Architect Mariello Spiteri for the applicant that the bay will be washed every three days and that in case of pollution, the bay will be sealed off from the sea by a curtain and the pollution collected by means of a special boom. While such tools undoubtedly exist, the people at the hearing were not ready to believe this could be done. What they know is the pristine quality of the sea at Hondoq.
Vince Farrugia’s attempt at speaking was many times drowned by roars of anger. First some objected to his speaking at that phase since that time was reserved for NGOs, as GRTU, for them, is not an NGO. Mr Farrugia interpreted this as someone attempting to shut him up. It is difficult to get investment to Malta and especially to Gozo, he said. People want jobs for their children. The opposition against this project means that the people of Gozo do not want even investment from Gozo.
Michael Grech, from the Gozo Business Chamber, made much the same points but since he spoke quietly, his words did not raise the walls of anger that had met Mr Farrugia.
Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg spoke at length and was heard out quietly. He claimed, amid other
things, that the social report in the EIS did not do what the local council did when it held a referendum in 2002 and 85 per cent of the 75 per cent who were interviewed said they were against the project. Instead the compiler of the social report, who later turned out to be Professor Mario Vassallo, asked people not just from Qala but also from Nadur and Ghajnsielem and then lumped them together. Prof. Vassallo did not ask people in Nadur whether they would want such a project at the two bays of Nadur. (Prof. Vassallo rose to state that the terms of reference were set out by Mepa. And after all, Hondoq is peopled in summer not just by people from Qala but from both Malta and Gozo.)
Mr Buttigieg also claimed that the Traffic Impact Assessment was done wrongly as measurements were taken in junctions outside the village and not in the village core.
This was reinforced later by many people especially elderly who spoke of the daily battle they wage against trucks who despite all rules and monitoring claims, pass through the narrow roads of the village and leave very little space for pedestrians.
As time went by, and the meeting ran over its projected time by about two hours, although many of the crowd left the hall, the situation tended to degenerate at times.
Some intra-village feuds came to the fore, as when Deputy Mayor Dr Ray Xerri spoke, causing some to exhibit extreme anger against him, possibly because he broke ranks and supported the project.
Alan Deidun asked why the EIS did not refer to an MMA study on the yacht marina project in Gozo. He also claimed that many EU directives were not referred to.
Mr Bencini showed photos of St George’s Bay, the only Blue Flag bay so far in Malta, which has yachts tied up some distance from the beach but no pollution reaches the bathers and the sunbathers. This will be the only Yacht Marina Village in Malta. There will be 8750 square metres of space open to the public.
Dr Gordon Cordina showed a presentation which showed that Gozo has a lower GDP output than Malta, 8000 to 11,000, less jobs. For Gozo to reach Malta’s levels 2,000 new jobs must be created. This project will create 600 jobs at construction time, with a multiplier effect of 1000 jobs and while in operation will employ between 200 and 400 jobs.
Doing nothing may be an option, but is it the best one? Maybe parts of the project need to be fine-tuned and enough controls and monitoring introduced to ensure nothing goes bad. Maybe the developer could also finance the studies of some people from the village or also introduce clean energy not just to the site but why not, give out PV panels to the village?
The concept of the project creating jobs did not enthuse many. One pointed out to the San Lawrenz hotel where mostly foreigners are employed. Others said only cheap jobs would be created while others still pointed out that hotels like the Mgarr and L-Andar have closed down.
Right at the end, Dun Lawrenz Theuma claimed that the quarry had been turned into a rubbish dump by the local council. “Not true”, the mayor jumped to protest: the rubbish was brought there from other places in Gozo because there was no other space to offload rubbish in Gozo. Go figure that out...
On the boat going to Gozo and also coming back, one could not but be struck by the numbers of Gozitans crossing in either direction. Most were clearly either coming from university or similar education or from work. Dr Cordina’s words continued to haunt me.
Updated: Police calm angry residents at Hondoq development consultation meeting
Residents, environmental NGOs object to Hondoq ir- Rummien development
The public hearing was held in Qala, Gozo this afternoon with Mario Spiteri, consultant of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, and Vince Farrugia, director general of the GRTU, defending the project.
Mr Spiteri said that the project will not affect the environment while Mr Farrugia attacked the objectors, saying that investment in the country does not come with “people like these.”
Astrid Vella, coordinator of Flimkien Ghall Ambjent Ahjar , asked how could MEPA approve such a project when the Government speaks of eco-Gozo.
Paul Buttigieg, spokesperson for Moviment Harsien Hondoq, reminded MEPA that the Qala residents had voted against the project in a referendum held in 2002.
Alex Vella, spokesperson for the Ramblers Association, said that the project should not come to the detriment of the surrounding area.
This project is also opposed by Nationalist Mayor Paul Buttigieg, who expressed his hope that the will of the majority will prevail.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Manuvri biex ifittex jinhareg il-permess ghall-izvilupp fil-bajja ta’ Hondoq
Pubblikata fuq l-Kulhadd nhar s-Sibt 22 ta' Mejju, 2010.
F’Ghawdex jinsabu ghaddejjin movimenti qawwija biex kemm jista’ jkun jithaffu l-affarijiet halli jfittex jinhareg il-permess ghall-izvilupp tal-inhawi tal-bajja ta’ Hondoq ir-Rummien, fil-limiti tal-Qala. Bhalissa qieghda ssir pressjoni kbira minn sorsi nfluwenti hafna f’Ghawdex biex tfittex isir il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li hija prerekwizit biex tkun tista’ tigi pprocessata l-applikazzjoni ghall-izvilupp tal-progett ta’ Hondoq u fil-fatt din sejra ssir nhar il-Hamis li gej.
Fis-snin u fix-xhur li ghaddew l-ipprocessar ta’ din l-applikazzjoni kien qed jiehu l-hin tieghu u kien qed isir bir-ritmu normali. Imma fil-gimghat li ghaddew f’daqqa wahda bdiet tinghafas il-pedala tal-gass, huwa bhal donnu tezisti premura kbira biex l-affarijiet jithaffew kemm jista’ jkun malajr. Dakollu bl-iskuza li x-xoghol u l-kummerc f’Ghawdex jinsab stagnat u l-progett ta’ Hondoq li fih elementi qawwija ta’ spekulazzjoni, qed jinbiegh minn dawk li ghandhom subghajhom imbill f’dan il-progett, li dan se johloq hafna opportunitajiet ta’ xoghol huwa u jinbena u anki meta jitlesta.
Sorsi ta’ min jorbot fuqhom qalu lil din il-gazzetta li kemm l-Arcipriet u l-Kap tal-Iskola tar-rahal tal-Qala, ma accettawx li s-smigh pubbliku ssir fis-sala taghhom. Imma d-Direttur tal-Edukazzjoni ta ordni lill-Kap tal-Iskola biex il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ssir fis-sala tal-iskola. L-ikbar inkwiet ghar-residenti tal-Qala mhuwiex biss il-qirda ambjentali tal-bajja ta’ Hondoq li huma jiffrekwentaw ghall-ghum specjalment, imma kif il-volum tat-traffiku li se johloq dan il-progett kemm fil-fazi tal-kostruzzjoni tieghu u anki meta jkun lest u miftuh se jgib herba mill-qalba tar-rahal bil-volum ta’ traffiku li se jkun ghaddej minnha.
Ghalkemm l-istudju tal-impatt tat-traffiku (it-TIS) ta’ dan il-progett ghadu ma tlestix, minn kif jidher is-smigh pubbliku se jsir propju fis-27 ta’ dan ix-xahar. Bil-manuvri li qeghdin isiru dwar dan il-progett, jidher li se jiccaqilqu l-affarijiet propju f’daz-zminijiet fejn il-pubbliku in generali se jkun aljenat sew bit-Tazza tad-Dinja u l-attenzjoni ta’ dawk in-nies li jsegwu dawn l-affarijiet ghadha kkoncentrata fuq l-iskandlu tal-kuntratt tal-estensjoni tal-power station ta’ Delimara.
Huma bosta dawk li qed jistaqsu kif jista’ jsir is-smigh pubbliku dwar il-progett ta’ Hondoq jekk ghadu mhux lest it-TIS u wahda mill-problemi ewlenin li se johloq dan il-progett hija propju kif se jigi mmanigjat il-volum ferm akbar ta’ traffiku li se johloq dan il-progett.
Ghalkemm l-izviluppaturi ntrabtu li juzaw toroq alternattivi minn fejn jghaddu l-ingenji taghhom minflok it-triq principali li tghaddi minn go nofs il-pjazza tal-Qala, jezistu dubji kbar kemm jista’ jinzamm impenn bhala dan. Fil-prattika dat-tip ta’ obbligi u kundizzjonijiet minkejja li jitnizzlu fil-permess, qajla jigu osservati. Hekk perezempju l-kumpannija Road Construction skont il-permess li ghandha ghall-barriera f’Ras il-Qala, l-ingenji taghha suppost li jghaddu minn triq sekondarja imma t-trukkijiet taghhom xorta wahda jghaddu min-nofs il-pjazza tar-rahal. L-ikbar inkwiet dawk li ghandhom ghal qalbhom l-harsien ta’ Hondoq u tal-village core tal-Qala huwa li jistghu jitnizzlu l-kundizzjonijiet kollha immaginabbli fil-permess tal-izvilupp, imma fl-ahhar tal-gurnata l-volum kbir tat-traffiku xorta se jispicca jghaddi minn gol-qalba tar-rahal u f’partijiet mit-triq din bil-kemm hija wiesa’ kull 4.2 metri.
Ta’ min jghid ukoll li r-raba bejn Hondoq u l-Imgarr hu hafna minnu proprjetà ta spekulaturi kbar li qeghdin jistennew li johrog il-permess tal-progett ta’ Hondoq biex imbaghad ikunu jistghu jizviluppaw l-art taghhom.
Sadattant fi zvilupp iehor konness mal-hrug tal-permess ghal dan il-progett, il-Vici-Sindku Nazzjonalista tal-Qala Ray Xerri spicca dawwar fehmtu dwar il-progett ta’ Hondoq. Sa ftit tal-gimghat ilu Ray Xerri dejjem iddikjara li kien kontra l-progett ta’ Hondoq. Tant hu hekk f’settembru 2009 meta kienet qed tigi diskussa mozzjoni mressqa fil-Kunsill Lokali tal-Qala kien iddikjara li huwa kontra l-progett. Imma waqt il-laqgha tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Qala li saret nhar l-Erbgha 12 ta’ Mejju, Ray Xerri ghamel kuntrumbajsa li ma bhala meta issa ddikjara ruhu li hu favur l-progett ta’ Hondoq ghax skont hu ser johloq ix-xoghol u se jnehhi l-kruha tal-barriera li hemm fil-vicinanzi. Ray Xerri huwa wiehed mis-sidien li kisbu l-permess kontroversjali biex jizviluppaw il-proprjetà li ghandhom fuq il-Belveder tal-Qala.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Hondoq ir-Rummien in peril
No one disagrees that Hondoq is in need of regeneration and refurbishment from its current dilapidated state. In the pre-2006 Local Plan, GZ-Qala-4, the Hondoq ir-Rummien area was scheduled for “exploitation of the existing mineral reserves followed by rehabilitation of the area with the condition that at least 75 per cent of the site should be afforested with preference given to public open-air recreational facilities”. How was it that these requirements were changed later in 2006 to read: “Development, within the boundaries of the Hondoq ir-Rummien, as indicated on map 14.8-E, for tourism and marine related uses”? I wonder who authorised the change.
The extraction of thousands of cubic metres of ‘hard rock’ (at great profit to the owners, or the eventual owners of the site) to a depth well below sea level and inland to produce a new coastal contour to Gozo and to allow the removal of soil and garigue, the destruction of habitats, flora and fauna, the changes of water courses and coastal topography cannot be justified or considered compliant with even the revised, ‘questionable’ local plan. Not to mention the major impact such a development would have on the environment in the short and long term and the adverse social impact on the Gozitans’ and Qala village life in particular. Where does this proposal fit into Eco-Gozo?
The developer’s argument is that the construction of the extensive hotel, chalets, apartments, shops and the marina for upper-class foreign and local rich tourists will improve Hondoq, the Gozo economy and employment prospects. This has not been the case with other such schemes, look at the Fort Chambray fiasco as one example. Do the authorities think they can do any better at Hondoq? The social and economic balance will most likely be upset to the long-term detriment of most of the indigenous population and in particular the village of Qala. In addition there is a major danger that the short- and longer-term visitors arriving by sea to the proposed high class marina will encourage smuggling, and drug trafficking and all the other modern day sicknesses borne of greed, power and corruption as evident in many other developed Mediterranean coastal marine settlements. Does Malta / Gozo wish to eclipse the Costa del Sol?
The developer’s architects say “buildings will be designed in a truly Mediterranean context and that the architectural style and character will be traditionally Gozitan”. This is a pure play on words and a contradiction of the developer’s intent to produce a high class five-star complex. What five-star yuppie holiday maker would be willing to stay in the average Gozitan village dwelling? In other words, the development will be more like a modern concrete jungle, a scar on the tranquil Gozo landscape.
Gozo has no further natural bays in which to develop new marinas. Hondoq does not readily provide such a site, without the proposed major quarry excavations and scarring of the island’s natural beauty. If the Maltese Islands need to increase their yacht marina capacity, then use the existing bay sites in Malta, e.g. turn the whole of St Paul’s Bay into a marina, if they like, not re-model the Gozo natural land/seascape to satisfy some megalomaniac scheme set on destroying the island’s charm. The developer’s consultants argue that “Marsalforn Bay is geared to the mass tourism market and that only a small marina could be accommodated and that such a marina would only generate a limited economical spin-off for Gozo”. This is biased and no more proven, nor is an enlarged marina at Mgarr which was once a pleasant swimming bay for the locals. Enlarging an already disfigured area makes more sense than the destruction of Hondoq. The suggestion that the Maltese Islands and, in this case, Gozo should become, I quote, “an international hub for yachting and maritime activities” is ludicrous; as suggested earlier, if such a plan is in the mind of the government then develop the marinas on Malta, not Gozo.
Government has designated Gozo as an ‘eco-island’. If this is its true intent, refurbish and re-establish the Hondoq quarry into a heritage park for the nation but do not allow it to be developed as a massive upmarket private hotel and marina village after they first turn the village of Qala into a quarry site for five years or so while the developers get rich and the local population suffers for generations to come. If this massive development is ever given the green light by Government and the planning authorities, how long will it be before the greedy, power-hungry barons of modern day Gozo take it upon themselves to develop the whole coastline between Hondoq and Mgarr to turn it into a concrete eyesore destroying this island paradise for ever?
Three final points of great concern: first, does MEPA honestly have the skills or resources to control and manage a development of the size envisaged and safeguard the nation and population from exploitation and corruption? Secondly, does Malta have the power generating capacity to service the proposed development requirements, the EIS mentions 6000 Mw. hrs per annum. Thirdly, as a Gozo resident and member of Wirt Ghawdex committed to the protection and preservation of Gozo’s fragile heritage, it is clear that the island does not have the infrastructure, roads, services, or desire to accommodate the proposed development at Hondoq, so why has the application been allowed to get this far? Maybe it would have been wiser to reject the application in 2002 before all the money had been invested in the abortive and extremely lengthy Environmental Impact Statement.
Gozitans, stand up and defend your island, this is supposed to be a modern day democracy not a Medieval feudal state, say NO to the development project at Hondoq ir-Rummien at the forthcoming public meeting in Qala and save your country.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Approval of Hondoq ir-Rummien project would be a mockery of Eco-Gozo
The environment and heritage NGOs Archaeological Society Malta, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, GAIA Foundation, said: “The approved Gozo and Comino Local Plan proposes the Hondoq ir-Rummien
area as a Site of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific importance for its geology, an Area of Ecological Importance and as a Category ‘A’ valley.”
Moreover a proposed Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV) which imposes the tightest restrictions against residential, commercial or tourism development, including roads and public utility services.
The NGOs strongly support these recommendations - in a year dedicated to sustainability and biodiversity. Approval of a project that destroys habitats and proposes large-scale building in the countryside with very negative effects on Qala village, would make a mockery of Eco-Gozo.
The seven NGOs therefore urge MEPA to refuse this project, and to stand by its Chairman’s recent words: ‘The Board takes decisions based on today’s planning policies and on the principle of sustainable development while making sure that permits are granted in the public interest.’