SOS Hondoq News

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ħondoq project's impact on sea and traffic

Published on the Times of Malta on Monday 28th June, 2010 by David Pisani, PRO, Żminijietna - Voice of the Left.

The fact that a few years ago, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority rejected the proposed development of a cruise liner terminal inside Mġarr Harbour area due to environmental considerations, as the area is a habitat for various protected species including a seaweed known as Posedonia meadow, means that Ħondoq ir-Rummien should be given the same treatment.

After all, the same species is found in Ħondoq ir-Rummien and is being threatened by the development of a yacht marina. The traffic impact statement of the proposed project has not yet been finalised and published.

One wonders why information of such high public interest was not published on the day of the recent public meeting or given to the council. People have a right to such information.

The referendum held in 2002 clearly shows that 85 per cent of Qala's residents disagree with the proposed project at Ħondoq ir-Rummien. The majority of the council members are also against the project.

Mepa should automatically re-ject the proposed development based on the fact that the area is of ecological importance and of public use for swimming purposes. The proposed yacht marina will destroy one of the most beautiful and clean beaches that are accessible in the Maltese islands.

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The language of EIA hearings

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 27th June, 2010 by Peter Gingell.

I refer to a letter entitled “Mepa must apologise” (TMIS, 20 June), wherein Angelo Xerri blames the Authority for taking the “advice of a handful of people” and not allowing the EIA public consultation meeting to be carried out in English, with the consequence that non-Maltese speaking people living in the Qala area were ignored.

While Mepa apologises for any inconvenience caused by this situation, it wishes to point out that the law regulating EIAs explicitly states that an EIA public hearing meeting should be held in the Maltese language. The fact that members of the public present for the EIA meeting objected to the use of the English language constrained the Mepa official chairing the meeting to abide by the law and effectively only allow the Maltese language, throughout the entire meeting, to be used by those present.

The Authority would also like to put on record that apart from the public meeting held in Qala, the public also had the opportunity, between 20 April and 11 June, to submit, in writing, any comments they wished to make pertaining to the EIA, in either English or Maltese. All representations received by Mepa were acknowledged and not one was ignored.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The controversial Qala Creek project (3)

Published on the Times of Malta on Monday, 21st June 2010 by Jane Carr.

The report by the Malta Maritime Authority (MMA), dated April 2009, seeks to identify sites for all-weather marinas and temporary marinas in order to help develop yachting facilities in Malta. The environment impact assessment report for the proposed marina development at Ħondoq is dated March 2009.

In its opening section on policy setting the MMA states: "No room for speculation - the development of new yacht marinas should not be accompanied by large real estate projects. With the exception of sites readily available and earmarked within a development zone, any new yacht marinas should function in a commercially viable way without the dependency for revenue from associated property."

The proposed development at Ħondoq is a marina with a large real estate project and is outside the development zone.

In the section on environmental criteria it states: "In this report, sites involving the natural coastline are not considered for all-weather marinas, unless they were previously considered in some other report."

The fact that Ħondoq has not been mentioned in this report as a suitable site for an all-weather marina implies that it has also not been considered suitable in any other report that the MMA is aware of.

As regards siting of temporary marinas it states: "Most of the temporary marinas being proposed occupy an area of less than one hectare, thus limiting the environmental impact. For Mġarr, Gozo, a larger area is being proposed as additional locations in Gozo are deemed unsuitable for temporary marinas."

So, Ħondoq Ir-Rummien was deemed unsuitable for both permanent and temporary marinas by the MMA as late as April 2009. What has suddenly changed that Mepa is considering the proposal now?

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The controversial Qala Creek project (2)

Published on the Times of Malta on Monday 21st June, 2010 by George G. Debono.

Emmanuel Cassar's letter, under the heading Environmental Saviour Or Destroyer? (June 14), deserves to be roundly condemned for what it is - pathetic sales patter which is so contrived as to be an insult to readers. Without a shadow of doubt, Mr Cassar (or, maybe, the worried individuals who possibly asked him to concoct this letter), have followed with "great interest" (for which read "financial interest") the efforts of the Qala local council, environment NGOs and members of the public, "to shoot down the Qala Creek project at all costs".

Using marketing-speak, Mr Cassar tries to sell the Qala project by claiming that it will "rehabilitate a completely disturbed area" when this means, in plain-speak, burying a large part of the rest of the unspoilt bay under concrete. With deft use of play on words Mr Cassar reassures us that this project will be "a wholesome natural and cultural environment" which will "enhance as far as possible the natural environment and increase quality public cultural space".

Sadly for Mr Cassar, these and other exalted clichés such as "a caring society for all" and "a society exerting less pressure on the environment" simply fall flat. As to "a better quality of life" - this might possibly apply to potential yacht-owners and purchasers of the well-appointed properties but this purchasable quality of life will be, as aptly summed up by a blogger, at the great social cost of taking a beach with clean sea away from the local people.

Sorry Mr Cassar, you gave us some very nice words but, as you saw from the blogs that followed your letter, nobody bought your transparent PR. Good try, but no thank you. The few remaining untouched places in Malta and Gozo are worth more than money. Besides, there are already more than enough vacant properties in Gozo; hotels are being closed down and other projects as Fort Chambray turned out to be non-starters. Let us hope that this ill-advised attempt at PR will have the opposite effect and deal the death blow to this project.

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The controversial Qala Creek project (1)

Published on the Times of Malta on Monday 21st June, 2010 by Michael Carol Bartolo.

Over the past weeks in Gozo and in particular in the village of Qala, the dilemma over Ħondoq ir-Rummien Bay with regard to the Qala Creek project has raised its head again. Perhaps everyone has heard of this project and also about the impact it will have, not only on Qala residents and the natural environment but also on numerous Gozitans, Maltese and tourists who visit this beach particularly in summer.

In my opinion and in the opinion of the majority of the people of Qala, Ħondoq ir-Rummien Bay will be destroyed forever if the proposed development goes through. This fact emerged at the May 27 public consultation meeting with the people of Qala that Mepa organised as part of the permit process.

I don't agree at all with the proposed project for several reasons indicated here. This is not what we call sustainable development. How can it be called that when boat oils will be spilled in the sea? A clear example is the shore nearby known as Iż-Żewwieqa. Is it still good for swimming? Of course not!

Eco-Gozo certainly does not apply to Ħondoq ir-Rummien! The decision is being considered in the short term, because we need to create jobs, instead of in the long term in consideration of the environment. Now is that a good example to provide to our children? It is in fact the total opposite of what they are being taught at school. Do we want our children and grandchildren to complain about how Ħondoq was destroyed?

The majority of Qala residents are in favor of transforming the quarry into a national park and not in favour of the proposed project. This is a monster out of place!

We are proud of our beach. I urge the people of Qala not to give up in the face of those who want to destroy Ħondoq as we know it. They must not be afraid to show that they and their beloved ones are from Qala and that they want to save Ħondoq!

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Mepa must apologise

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 20th June, 2010 by Angelo Xerri.
I refer to the Mepa public hearing on the Qala Creek Project at Hondoq ir-Rummien that was held on Thursday 27 May, which many people from different countries in Europe, mostly English, attended. They were there to represent the 300 or so people that live in Qala village.

These people were never given a chance to know what was going on because the meeting was held in Maltese, so most of them walked out of the meeting feeling frustrated and let down. There was nobody to blame for this except Mepa, because it took the advice of the handful of people that supported the project. Some of the supporters the developers brought in had never been to Qala before but were asked to back the project at the hearing. Mepa conducted this hearing using the law of the jungle. Mepa must apologize to these people, not only to the ones that live in Qala but also to the rest of the people from other countries that live on these islands. These people that live in Qala are part of the community so they have rights. They chose to live in Qala because they like Gozo and prefer Hondoq ir-Rummien to many other beautiful places in Europe.

They spend their money in Qala and Gozo, buy properties, pay taxes, they bring their friends for holidays; they are an attraction for tourists to Gozo, and an asset to the community. They must not be ignored, and the way they were treated at the hearing made me ashamed of being Gozitan. After all these people are also Europeans and not foreigners.


Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 20th June, 2010 by James A. Tyrrell.

Dr Raymond C. Xerri has stated in the press that he was never a member of or supported the Save Hondoq Movement and has demanded, no less, that this is made clear. Now even as a foreigner I know this to be untrue. He had always stated in the past that he was opposed to the development project at Hondoq, so why the sudden change of heart?

A couple of reasons come to mind. Firstly, his father has been trying unsuccessfully to develop his belvedere property for years now but the application was always turned down. This finally became possible when the Local Plan changed and unaccountably declared that two houses were a ‘hamlet’, a designation refused to much larger communities! Because of this, the development application was granted. I’m sure Ray was really grateful, and what better way to show his appreciation than to support the government stance on the Hondoq project. He also stated that the building had nothing to do with him but belonged to his brothers and parents and he had no share in it. Obviously, he must be an outcast within his own family in the same way that he is an outcast with the people of his constituency, although, according to his father, the buildings and land were an investment for all his family.

Secondly, we know that Dr Xerri is not accepted as a PN person due to the court case years ago, which resulted in his suspension from the party. Since he knows that the PN are backing the Hondoq project, is it possible that he is trying to get back into their good books and therefore stand a better chance of being accepted back into the party by taking their side in the argument?

Dr Xerri stated at the public consultation that one of the reasons he was supporting the development was because it would be creating jobs for Gozo. He has obviously forgotten the promises made for the township of deluxe apartments built within the fortifications of Fort Chambray, the Mgarr Hotel and the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz, all of which promised lots of jobs for the local people and failed miserably to fulfil those promises.

I found it funny when he stated at the consultation that, according to his diary last year, he went to Hondoq exactly 16 times. I mean how many people record every time they go to Hondoq in their diary? Makes you wonder how many other interesting little snippets he has in there – toenail cutting sessions, toilet visits etc. But then I suppose he has a lot of time on his hands since he has a job doing nothing at the Gozo University at Xewkija.

His own constituents do not trust Dr Raymond C. Xerri, he has been thrown out of the PN, does not enjoy good working relations with his co-workers at the university and is not trusted in the council of which he is a member. It would appear that Dr Xerri’s credibility is at an all time low and this about turn is his attempt at trying to climb the greasy pole once again.

SOS Hondoq membership not a prerequisite for opposing the project

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 20th June, 2010 by Joe Falzon.

With reference to Dr Xerri’s letter entitled “Never a member of the Save Hondoq movement” (TMIS, 13 June), I would like to state that I have a document showing that the Qala council presented a motion in September 2009 in which the local council, Dr Xerri included, voted unanimously against the Hondoq Project (document provided).

Can Dr Xerri explain this discrepancy between his stand on the issue in September 2009 and his ‘kutrumbajsa’ (U-turn) at the 12 May meeting in which he came out in favour of the project? I am ready to retract what I said if Dr Xerri can provide irrefutable proof – for example, prior to the 12 May meeting, did he write anything to refute the September 2009 motion? Any letter or article to support the project? Everybody knows his penchant for writing, so why the long silence between September 2009 and May 2010? But please, let us not hear this excuse that has become the norm … I didn’t know... I was in the dark even though I attended the meeting... I signed documents but I didn’t read them beforehand...

Regarding the Belvedere project – well, as the Maltese saying goes: (blood is thicker than water!) Still, you didn’t deny its controversy which doesn’t put Mepa in a good light which, in turn, must have shone upon you on 12 May, as it did upon St Paul on his road to Damascus, and Mepa’s doors opened and you heard its celestial voice proclaim “Dr Xerri, why do you persecute me”?

And, by the way, being a member of SOS Hondoq was never a prerequisite for opposing the project.

Remember, Dr Xerri, and this goes for all politicians, the great politician is the one who is able to put aside his / her own interests for the sake of the interests of those who had elected him / her.

So please provide the proof that you were in favour of the project prior to 12 May and I will be more than happy to retract what I have said.

Preċedent b’jott marina f’Ħondoq – il-kandidat tal-PN, Alan Deidun

Pubblikata fuq l-Orizzont nhar s-Sibt 19 ta' Gunju, 2010.

F’rapport li Alan Deidun ħej ja għall-Kunsill Lokali tal-Qa la b’risposta għar-rapport im ħejji fuq il-proġett ta’ Ħondoq ir-Rummien dwar l-eko loġija marittima u l-impatt fuq il-kwalità tal-ilma baħar, enfasizza li jott marina f’Ħon doq ir-Rummien toħloq pre ċe dent.

Fir-rapport tiegħu, il-bijolo gu Alan Deidun, qal li l-preċedent li nħoloq fil-propos ta ta’ jott marina f’Ħondoq ir-Rum mien hu fuq żewġ fron ti.

Dan għax il-jott marinas koll ha eżistenti f’pajjiżna qegħ din f’żoni baħar li hu ma aktar meqjusin bħala inferjuri f’dak li hu l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar.

Ir-rapport jgħid li l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar f’Ħondoq ir-Rummien ġie deskritt f’diversi rapporti oħrajn bħala li kien totalment ħieles mit-tniġġis, li l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar f’Ħon doq ir-Rummien kienet eċċellenti u li l-kwalità tal-am bjent marittimu f’Ħondoq ir-Rummien kien wieħed ta’ li vell tajjeb.

Ir-rapport jgħid li t-tieni fatt rigward il-preċedent hu dak li bl-eċċezzjoni tal-port tal-Imġarr f’Għawdex, il-fliegu ta’ bejn Malta u Għawdex ma jintużax minn bastiment kbar.

Ir-rapport ta’ Alan Deidun jgħid li l-uniku dokument li jqis lil Ħondoq ir-Rummien b’mod pożittiv biex fih issir il-jott marina, hu d-dokument tal-impatt ambjentali li sar fuq il-proġett kollu propost għaż-żona ta’ Ħondoq ir-Rummien.

Is-Sur Alan Deidun fir-rapport tie għu jgħid li stat membru fl-Unjoni Ewropea jista’ biss jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu għal xi proġett, jekk l-assessjar li jsir jiżgura fiċ-ċert li mhu se jkun hemm l-effett sinjifikanti fuq l-integrità essenzjali tas-sit.

F’Ħondoq ir-Rummien hu propost li jkun hemm akkomodazzjoni għal 1,500 persuna, f’barriera mhix użata. Il-proġett ta’ “Qala Creek” se jkun jikkonsisti f’170 kamra f’lu kanda, 25 villa, 60 appartament ‘self catering’, 200 resi denza u post għal 150 jott fil-marina.

Fl-aqwa tal-istaġun, hu previst li l-popolazzjoni tar-ra ħal tal-Qala tirdoppja, hekk kif il-proġett ta’ Ħondoq ir-Rummien hu mistenni li jilqa’ fih xejn inqas minn 1,500 resident.

Ftit tas-snin ilu, meta kien hemm bdil f’dan il-proġett, kien issemma kif il-kumpanija bl-isem Gozo Prestige Holidays, kienet qiegħda tippjana li l-proġett ta’ villaġġ f’Ħondoq ir-Rummien jitlesta fis-sena 2010.

Il-proġett kien intqal li se jiswa €75 mljun. L-art fejn se jsir il-porġett hi ta’ 197,597 metru kwadru, bl-iżviluppaturi jgħidu li se jiżvilupaw 58,880 metru kwadru.

L-iżviluppaturi kienu qalu li dan il-proġett se jkun jinvolvi tqattigħ ta’ madwar 900,000 metru kubu ta’ blat mill-barriera u se jsiru madwar 60 vjaġġ bit-trakkijiet kuljum.

Fuq il-proġett propost kien sar referendum fuq żmien ta’ tlett ijiem, li għalih kienu ħarġu jivvotaw 966 persuna mill-Qala jew 74.4% minn 1,298 resident.

Minn dawn, 806 jew 84.5% ivvotaw kontra l-proġett, waqt li 148 jew 15.5% ivvotaw favur.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hondoq ir-Rummien: Food for the Dragon

Published on the Malta Independent on Tuesday 14th June, 2010 by Agnes Debono.

At first glance, Gozo has nothing to do with Lydda, the city haunted by the blood-thirsty dragon which threatened its lifeline by occupying the territory around the only water source outside the city walls.

In our times dragons are relegated to the realms of legends. But in the days of St George and in the early times of the Church everybody knew that ‘dragons’ were hidden references to oppressive, life-suffocating regimes. The water source and the maidens offered to the dragon in Lydda symbolise life and the sustainable future of the community.

Today, bigger parts of the Gozitan countryside are offered to an insatiable dragon appearing in the greed of economic and construction lobbies behind so many projects that are presented as if they were to introduce a bonanza for Gozo.

As such, one may think that Hondoq is another development like many others we have had in the last 50 years. But in many ways it stands for so many ill-conceived new developments that are threatening our future and is undoubtedly a clear signal that the dragon will want more and forever more.

Analysing this project one cannot overlook the fact that the plans were designed at a time when there was still a high artificial demand for the jet set. Portomaso was in some ways innovative for Malta and was perhaps the right project at the right time. Hondoq is not. It is repeating a concept that is doomed to fail because it is a repetition of the unsuccessful Chambray that is less than two kilometres away.

MEPA is giving more than ever before the impression of a rubber-stamping machinery for further developments, even though empty unsold property is abundant in Gozo. Given the size of Gozo, developments could easily overshadow or even eliminate each other. For instance, a runway between Ghajnsielem and Xewkija could seal the fate of Chambray because this happens to be in the flight path of the possible runway. The proposed Hondoq development rules out the possible, though remote, causeway between Malta and Gozo. No one from the privileged Hondoq residents would like a highway to end or start at his doorstep.

Once the Hondoq project is over, the obvious solution for the dragon would be to create another project, to have another bite at another part of the Gozitan countryside. Our politicians will not stop the onslaught. At best they are only keen on appeasing the dragon and in return hoping that it continues to fill their respective party coffers.

I am afraid this time that I cannot pin my hopes upon St George’s second coming.

Environmental saviour or destroyer?

Published on the Times of Malta on Monday 14th June, 2010 by Stanley Farrugia Randon.

It is no surprise that the meeting on the Ħondoq ir-Rummien project ended in a row. On one side, we have the developers who are looking at the project as another opportunity to make money at a time when business is low; the strongest point in their favour is that without such projects the economy of the islands slows down as we depend too much on the construction industry. On the other hand, we have the residents who will definitely be affected by the project as this will generate more traffic, noise and pollution. They have much to lose.

We then have the NGOs who are unanimously opposing the project as a whole or mostly because the building of the marina will inevitably affect negatively the surrounding sea and coastline. As a member of the committee of Din l-Art Ħelwa for the past 18 years, I witnessed many projects which went through and altered once and for all the aesthetic beauty of our islands.

When commenting on the Ħondoq ir-Rummien project, Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco was reported as saying that one had to examine such projects with great caution as that is what sustainable development requires. I believed in the buzz words sustainable development where one tries to minimise the damage caused by such projects.

Today, I believe that development outside the development zone can never be sustainable, whatever and wherever it is. We can embellish places, modernise them and make them more environmental friendly. However, we cannot afford to increase the built footprint anymore. Our islands are too small and we are already too densely populated. Once we alter a place by passing a road through it or building it up, we are causing irreversible damage once and for all. This applies to Malta, Gozo as well as Comino as the latter island is also not spared of speculation. I cannot imagine our islands in 50 years' time if we continue to build them up at the rate we did during the past 50 years!

If we have to keep our economy going we have to find alternative ways to do so. To dream of ODZ projects and accept them in order to keep our economy going is nonsense.

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Hondoq – the new symbol

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 13th June, 2010 by Joe Falzon.

Hondoq has now become a symbol – it represents the few developers with money interests on the one hand, and the huge number of Gozitans, Maltese and foreigners whose only interest is to maintain the natural purity of Hondoq that attracts them to this place. One look at the blogs / newspaper letters will show the vast numbers of those who are against the project as opposed to those in favour. And this is not counting the thousands of names that have signed the petition against the project. Can the developers boast of any petition to okay the project?

If architect Mr Bencini, or Vince Farrugia, or anyone in favour of the project want to convert me to their cause, then there are questions that need to be answered and which, as far as I know, haven’t been. I will list them in a random order and hope I get an answer:

1) Why do you think a new hotel will succeed where others are failing?

2) Why was Hondoq not listed on Mepa’s list of possible yacht marina sights in its survey, and now it has become the chosen site?

3) Why was the area concerned originally ODZ and then listed as open to development when Mr Bajada bought the land in question? Why did he get special treatment?

4) What guarantee can there be that the project won’t set a precedent and open up adjacent land to speculation?

5) What guarantee that parts of the coast won’t become ‘residents only’, like what happened at the Mellieha hotel and ta’ Cenc?

6) What guarantee that the bay won’t become polluted?

7) Why does Mr Bencini want to hide the facts regarding the numbers that use Hondoq?

8) Why a yacht marina at Hondoq? If it is necessary, why not extend the existing one at Mgarr?

9) Are there any politicians or their children involved in the project?

10) If the coast belongs to the public, then who gives you the right to demolish part of the shore to create an opening to the creek?

I was swimming at Hondoq today in the late afternoon (7 June, the Sette Giugno, long weekend). The beach had quite a few people, mostly Maltese and foreigners. I counted over 40 cars; God knows how many more had already been there and left. Keep in mind that the swimming season has barely started. Once school is over, and especially in the month of August, bathers will be packed like sardines in a tin! Too crowded for my liking, which is why I prefer early morning! This project will reduce the area where people can relax since part of the jetty will be demolished for the ‘mouth’ to the yacht marina! But, the developers would hoodwink the public by having a picture of Hondoq published in The Times with a handful of cars!

In the Independent of 8 June, Francesca Vella in her article tells how after Hondoq it will be Ta’ Cenc’s turn. Hondoq has become the symbolic battleground – if the project succeeds then it will be death knell for all ‘green areas’ in Gozo; it will automatically kill the concept of an Eco-Gozo and it will turn Mepa even more into a Frankenstein monster that can make and bend laws at will for VIP clients at the expense of the public in general.

Lastly, I would like to remind the Qala local council that in the referendum on Hondoq 85 per cent voted against both yacht marina and housing project and we should not okay the latter if the marina is scratched! Let’s stick to our guns – it was planned as a natural park area and that’s what an Eco-Gozo needs!

Never a member of the Save Hondoq Movement

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday 13th June, 2010 by Dr. Raymond C. Xerri.

With reference to the letter entitled “Hondoq – the last straw” signed Joe Falzon, Qala (TMIS, 6 June), I demand that two corrections are made.

Firstly, the letter states: “… who originally supported Save Hondoq Movement...”I was never a member of or supported the Save Hondoq Movement.

Secondly, Mr Falzon states, “… since he has his own controversial building project on Qala’s Belvedere...” To date, the building belongs to my brothers and parents, and I have no share in the building or land.

Marina would ruin Ħondoq's unspoilt shoreline - Wirt Għawdex

Published on the Times of Malta on Sunday 13th June, 2010.

Gozitan heritage NGO Wirt Għawdex has come out strongly against the proposed project to build a yacht marina, villas and apartments at Ħondoq ir-Rummien, Qala, and has submitted its objections to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa).

The society said marinas typically tend to pollute the surrounding waters and its biggest concern was that a marina would ruin Ħondoq's "unique shoreline and unspoilt area". It also questioned the need for another marina close the recently privatised one at Mġarr, which was planning to expand.

While it agreed the disturbed land of the disused quarry needed to be rehabilitated, Wirt Ghawdex said it had "grave reservations" about the project.

The NGO said building another massive complex of apartments and villas would not benefit Gozo which it said "already has too many empty dwellings".

The society said air pollution during construction would be very detrimental to residents and the environment in Qala, and while it would create some temporary employment, there was a high risk the project would not be sustainable.

Wirt Għawdex said that when judging the project Mepa was obliged to see whether it addressed the need to balance Gozo's need for prosperity with the need to protect the island's unique environment.

Contrary to the developer's Environment Impact Assessment, the NGO's opinion was that the project would have a significant negative impact on the island's environment and was not the type of development appropriate, sustainable or in line with eco-Gozo.

A litmus test for eco-Gozo

Published on the Times of Malta on Sunday 13th June, 2010 by Dr. Alan Deidun.

The Ħondoq ir-Rummien saga has been hogging the headlines for some time now. Many will be vaguely familiar with the issue but few had the privilege to witness the charade that unfolded during the first public hearing for the application.

As has become the norm in recent years, dubious techniques were utilised by the developer to gain ascendency at the hearing. Most notably, those sympathetic to the developer's cause packed the small hall quite some before the hearing was meant to start.

The grapevine has it that a notorious developer from Malta happened to visit Gozo the day before the hearing, presumably to whip up support mainly among construction workers to turn up in numbers for the hearing - a typical 'bring-your-own-crowd' stunt. A close associate of the developer was present at the hearing, giving credence to such hearsay.

The hearing was mismanaged from the very beginning, with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority officials who were meant to regulate proceedings completely hapless to prevent the degeneration and mayhem which ensued.

The proposed development seeks to attract investment in local properties by foreigners, and a considerable number of Qala residents are foreign. Despite this, translation of the hearing proceedings for the benefit of foreigners was not permitted, and all attempts at even a partial translation were shouted down.

GRTU director general Vince Farrugia resorted to histrionics and tenuous arguments to prop up the development. For instance, he said the developer had already commissioned one million euros' worth of reports and studies, as if financial prowess and commissioned reports can buy permits.

Mr Farrugia also said the area around Ħondoq was a shambles and that refusing such a development would scare off further investment in the island. Perhaps he regards the more opulent surroundings he is accustomed to, to be more civilised, but many Qala residents and Maltese and Gozitan families regard the simple beach and concrete jetty at Ħondoq as their home.

Developing a yacht marina there would be setting a dangerous precedent. So far, yacht marinas such as those at Msida Creek, Vittoriosa and Portomaso have been developed at sites where bathing water quality is far inferior to that in Ħondoq. Sacrificing a spot which consistently ranks at the top of bathing water quality charts would be clearly communicating the message that no place is too sacred for development.

The developer's architect, Edward Bencini, and the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) coordinator, Mariello Spiteri, made some far-fetched assertions at the hearing, which merit comment. At the hearing I attempted to rebut their claims but to no avail, since the public hearing system only allows the developer's representatives to reply to statements made by registered objectors, Qala council in this case.

Bencini claimed he has seen amberjacks swimming within yacht marinas. He even showed a photo of people diving into the sea from the concrete seawall around the Portomaso yacht marina. It is beyond me how Bencini can so confidently comment on matters outside his area of competence - namely marine biology - and how the presence of isolated fish can imply that the environmental impact of yacht marinas is insignificant.

At the hearing I also pointed out that the coordinated EIS report fails to refer to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which stipulates that all member states should achieve good quality status of their waters by 2021, to Mepa's Coastal Strategy Topic Paper (CSTP), and to the 2009 report by the Malta Maritime Authority report (downloadable from the OPM site) on the development of yachting facilities in Malta. The developers' technical representatives did not react at all. Tacit acknowledgement?

The latter report, which is the most recent on the current state of play of yacht marinas, clearly states that the CSTP provides the most up-to-date policy on coastal development. Yet the EIS coordinator failed to even mention it, despite having referred to at least two other Mepa topic papers.

The same MMA report includes a very telling flow diagram of the hierarchical criteria which should be used to assess potential sites for yacht marinas. The flow diagram, conveniently shunned by the project proponents, explictly recommends the discarding of sites where there is a high impact on the natural coastline and where there is a significant conflict with other users and a loss of amenity. Ħondoq fits both bills. It would be very sad indeed if we have reached the stage where concrete jetties and sea walls are considered on a par with natural rocky coastlines.

Incidentally, at the hearing, Spiteri asserted that environmental monitoring at Portomaso yacht marina was abruptly halted after three years in view of the improving water quality on site - this is incorrect, as revealed in communications I have had with Mepa officials acquainted with the case.

But perhaps the social impacts are as profound as the environmental ones. The eminent anthropologist Prof. Jeremy Boissevain made mincemeat of the social impact report within the EIS. In particular, Boissevain took exception to the bold assertions made in the report that the overall social impact of the project would definitely be positive and that the project was bound to be a win-win project for all Gozitans.

The only snag in the glamorous scenario depicted in the EIS social study is that an overwhelming majority of Qala residents (85 per cent) think otherwise and would not think twice about ditching the project. According to the author of the EIS social study, the Qala residents' opposition could be pinned down to lack of proper information and to an element of herd instinct typical of small societies.

Boissevain rightly quashes such hackneyed conclusions by pointing out that as more detail about the project was provided to Qala residents, the number of those against the development mushroomed.

As is customary for all Environmental Impact Assessments, Mepa submits its own comments on aspects of the reports submitted by the developer that need to be addressed. A total of 235 such comments were submitted by Mepa.

The first deserves specific mention in view of its relevance.

"Reference is made to the various instances whereby bias in favour of the project is indicated (such as the concluding chapter of the Non-Technical Summary). In this respect, I would bring to your attention Provision 24 (2) of the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, 2007 (LN 114 of 2007), which states that the Director of Environment Protection shall consider whether the statement has been satisfactorily compiled, prepared in a professional manner, is without bias and adequately meets the terms of reference, following which, if he is satisfied, he shall certify it. Bias also goes contrary to Provision 29 (1) of LN 114/07 and contrary to EIA best practice. You are therefore required to remove all reference to the acceptability of the project as well as other bias in favour of the project."

Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco should be praised for his courageous stand on the issue a few weeks ago, whereby, in an indirect call to preserve Gozo's unique coastline, he questioned the proposed development's environmental credentials. His reasoning is all the more sound when making a few simple calculations.

For instance, Sicily and Tunisia currently host 14,000 and 3,000 yacht berths respectively, or a berth per 0.54 and 0.018 square kilometres, respectively. The corresponding figure for Malta, with its current total of about 1,500 berths, is a berth per 5.71 square kilometres.

In the end, it all boils down to a simple decision, one that either further desecrates Gozo's coastal resources and its unique tranquillity, or one that gives much-needed credence to the eco-Gozo concept. The Ħondoq issue is well and truly a litmus test for eco-Gozo, which can either soar or plummet.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Past mistakes, present-day decisions

Published on the Times of Malta on Saturday 12th June, 2010 by Carmel Cacopardo.

"Our environment is too small to aff-ord to suffer any more mi-stakes than we have already committed in the past, sometimes even in the name of tourism and progress." This was not stated by AD chairman Michael Briguglio but by Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco with reference to the pending Ħondoq ir-Rummien Mepa application (The Sunday Times, May 30).

In considering large projects for development permission, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is not considering environmental and social impacts adequately, opting instead to focus on perceived short-term economic gains. Unfortunately, the paths leading to decisions are guided by experts who should know better.

Some time ago, Mepa approved the extension of the Malta Free-port. In the process, it ignored that such an extension gobbled up the existing buffer zone established way back in 1995. The end result will be a Freeport operating area that is much closer to the Birżebbuġa residential area. The Freeport as it is operating already severely impacts the daily lives of the Birżebbuġa residents. Making things worse will only raise tensions and the loss of at least part of the accumulated social capital of the locality. No amount of mitigation will ever restore what is being lost with Mepa's blessings.

In deciding on the matter, Mepa has been misguided by an EIA process, which, being financed by the developer, had an interest to shift attention on the over-emphasised perceived economic gains, simultaneously downplaying social and environmental impacts.

The Ħondoq ir-Rummien project seems to be the next issue which further highlights the developing tensions between the residential community and those interested in making a fast buck. The proposal, which involves substantial rock excavation, aims to develop a 170-room hotel, 25 villas, 60 self-catering apartments, 200 residences, parking space and a 150-berth yacht marina.

This proposed development will squeeze out the current uses at Ħondoq ir-Rummien. It will conflict with the public recreational uses the Gozitans and Maltese alike make of the area.

Jeremy Boissevain, in a report commissioned by the Qala local council, has highlighted that the massive scale of the project will practically double the Qala population. The local community has not accepted the proposed intrusion into their lives, which the proposed project suggests. As evidenced by the local referendum held in Qala some years back, the community does not consider the economic aspect on its own. Rather, it should be weighed and compared to the environmental and social impacts it will necessarily generate.

The social and environmental externalities of the project are being repeatedly downplayed by those who want to cash in on the economic benefits such a project will undoubtedly generate for the few. After having cashed in the benefits of property speculation aimed at a 70 per cent foreigner occupancy target, they will then leave the community to carry the burdens and pay the costs, deprived of basic facilities which, to date, have been much used by the public.

Mepa has yet to decide on this project and there is no way of knowing the direction such a decision would take. It is however logical to assume that the line of reasoning the current Mepa board has applied in other cases is of relevance. Hence, the validity of Dr de Marco's warning on the need to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated, not even on behalf of "tourism and progress".

The government is aware that, to date, it has given conflicting signals. Very late in the day, it is realising that it cannot run with the proverbial hares while simultaneously hunting with the hounds. The current state of affairs is the direct result of the ambivalent attitude to environmental issues by politicians from the major parties which have developed the skill of quickly switching mode depending on their audience.

The causes are various.

AD is on record as pointing to two immediate solutions: firstly regulating the funding of political parties and, secondly, for the government to share with the community the process of appointing the Mepa decision-makers, by having the appointees subjected to a public hearing prior to their being appointed.

The major political parties are hostage to the construction industry. This is also evident by the reluctance of Parliament to legislate on party political funding. The parliamentary select committee appointed two years ago has, to date, been ineffective in this respect. Likewise, the Mepa reform process will result in a wasted opportunity, as while it will tinker with a number of issues, it will retain the most essential matters requiring re-form untouched.

It is one thing to speak on past mistakes and quite another to move up the learning curve. Past mistakes will most probably be reflected in present-day decisions. At least for the time being.

I hope that I will be proven wrong.

The author, an architect and civil engineer, is the spokesman on sustainable development and local government of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party in Malta.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Wirt Ghawdex has 'grave reservations' on Hondoq ir-Rummien project

Published on the Times of Malta on Thursday, 11th June, 2010.

Wirt Għawdex cannot agree with the proposed project at Hondoq ir-Rummien and has submitted its objections to MEPA.

In a statement it said that while it agreed that the disturbed land of the quarry needed to be rehabilitated, it had grave reservations about this project.

“Typically, marinas tend to pollute the surrounding waters and Wirt Għawdex’s biggest concern is that a marina would ruin this unique shoreline and unspoilt area.

“The society also questions the need for another marina right next door to the one at Mgarr which has just been privatised and is planned to grow.”

Gozo, Wirt Ghawdex said, already had too many empty dwellings and building another massive complex of apartments and villas carried no benefit to the overall standard of life on the island.

The effects of air pollution during construction would be of great detriment to residents and the environment. While the construction phase would create some temporary employment opportunities, the project had a high risk of non-sustainability.

Wirt Ghawdex said that notwithstanding the developer’s EIA, the society believed this project would have a significant, negative impact on the island’s environment.

The organisation said it did not believe this was the type of development that was appropriate, sustainable or in line with eco-Gozo.

“MEPA has an obligation to judge this project as to whether it addresses the balance between Gozo’s need for prosperity and the need to protect the island’s unique environment,” it said.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Petizzjoni kontra l-proġett tal-Ħondoq

Pubblikata fuq l-Orizzont nhar l-Erbgha 9 ta' Gunju, 2010.

F’mistoqsija parlamentari mill-Onor. Owen Bonnici lill-Prim Ministru Gonzi, dwar il-po żizzjoni tal-Gvern fuq il-pro ġett ta’ Ħondoq ir-Rummien, f’Għawdex, il-PM qal li l-MEPA hi responsabbli mid-deċiżjoni jekk għandux isir dan il-proġett. Gonzi qal li l-Gvern m’għan dux x’jaqsam mad-de ċiż joni li se tieħu l-MEPA. Sostna li l-Gvern ma jindaħalx fl-applikazz jonijiet li tirċievi l-MEPA dwar proġetti ta’ żvilupp, u lanqas ma jindaħal fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu mill-membri tal-bord tal-MEPA.

Wara l-laqgħa ta’ ftit jiem ilu mal-komunità Għawdxija dwar l-istess proġett, bdiet tinfirex pe tizzjoni madwar Malta u Għawdex biex min hu kontra dan l-iż vilupp jiffirma. Din il-petizz jo ni qiegħda ddur bl-imejl fejn min jirċiviha jikteb ismu u jgħad diha lil ħaddieħor biex kul ħadd isemma’ leħnu kontra l-proġett. S’issa f’din il-petizzjoni vvotaw mijiet ta’ persuni li ma jaqblux, li ka ġun tiegħu se tintilef aktar mis-sbuħija naturali fil-bajjiet tagħna.

Does Gozo really need another hotel?

Published on the Times of Malta on Tuesday 8th June, 2010 by Charles Micallef, Qawra.

At the risk of being accused of pessimism, I would like to ask if Gozo needs yet another hotel. Is it not a matter for the relevant authorities to make sure that there is some consistency in the number of tourist arrivals and fill the empty hotel rooms first (and I do not mean for eight weeks out of 52) or has optimism gone to someone's head?

Let us not have a repeat of investments such as the Mistra Village, Jerma Palace, Forum Hotel which were good hotels but were closed down and the properties left as eyesores, simply because the room rates they were achieving did not make commercial sense!

The least one can do is learn through past mistakes.

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Hondoq project: It's up to Mepa - PM

Published on the Times of Malta on Tuesday 8th June, 2010.

It is up to Mepa to decide on the application for development at Hondoq ir-Rummien and the governemnt does not interfere in the vote of the board members, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said.

He was replying to a question in Parliament by Labour MP Own Bonnici on the government's position, and therefore the position of the government-appointed Mepa board members, on the project.

Dr Gonzi said that in this and all other development applications submited to Mepa, the governemnt left it up to the Authority to decide according to law, and did not interfere in the votes of the members.

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