Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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Monday, March 05, 2012
NGOs demand answers on public land transfer to Ħondoq developers
Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday, 4th March, 2012.
No less than eight environment and heritage protection organisations yesterday demanded answers on a request they say has been made for the transfer of public land at Ħondoq ir-Rummien to the Qala Creek developers as part of a controversial project that has been redrafted time and time again, but which is still encountering a wall of resistance by the project’s objectors.
Moviment Ħarsien Ħondoq , FAA, Ramblers, Nature Trust, Wirt Għawdex, Friends of the Earth Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa and GUG said yesterday that the latest version of the controversial proposal submitted by the developers went beyond the footprint of the original application to include the footprint of the defunct reverse osmosis, or desalination plant, located on the right hand side of the bay. That land, the NGOs pointed out yesterday, was still public property and the developers have proposed the construction of a public car park in the facility’s stead.
Saying they “feel very strongly about the site being handed over for speculative purposes” in a joint statement, the organisations said yesterday that the developers will, if the land is or has been transferred, gain additional area for the project which falls outside the project’s original footprint.
In accordance with the Development Planning Act, the NGOs said yesterday, the Ħondoq Creek developers have notified the Lands Department of their intentions.
As such, the NGOs yesterday requested, “an urgent public reply by the Lands Department as to whether any requests for the transfer of this land have been received” while also asking the authorities “to clearly state their stand on this transfer of land and on the proposed development on the patch of land”.
Muscat’s plans for reverse osmosis site
In another twist to the long-running tale, Opposition leader Joseph Muscat last Saturday, on a visit to Gozo, had pitched the concept of transforming the dilapidated building into new facilities, including an indoor swimming pool.
Dr Muscat said the plan, following consultations with nearby Qala residents, would be to demolish what is effectively quite an eyesore spoiling one of the country’s most picturesque bays, to make way for a new facility, on the same or a smaller footprint, to house an indoor swimming pool and fitness centre, public toilets and changing rooms as well as a restaurant and cafeteria.
“The buildings would be designed and constructed in such a way as to make them harmonise with the natural habitat of the bay. The design would also ensure that the highest environmental standards are met, making use of recycled material, recycled aggregate, recycled concrete, geo-thermal energy and photovoltaic panels for energy,” Dr Muscat said.
A chequered planning history
Ħondoq ir-Rummien’s “chequered planning history” began with the 1969 government expropriation of Ħondoq Quarry, including the site of the reverse osmosis plant, in order to provide stone for the Mgarr breakwater, the eight NGOs recalled yesterday.
They said that in 1988, Gozo Prestige Holidays had entered into a ‘promise of sale’ with the previous owners, the Augustinian Brothers, depending on full development permits being acquired. The same year, Qala local council also applied to convert the area into a National Park, but the high permit fees required by Mepa meant it was not feasible to continue at the time.
In June 2002, the land was returned to the Augustinian Brothers, excluding the site of the reverse osmosis plant. In July the developers put in an application for the Qala Creek Project, despite the area’s ODZ status, and the NGOs claim the proposal violated the draft Local Plan published in June 2002, agreed upon by Qala local council and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which states: “The preferred use is to reclaim the area either for agricultural use or afforestation.”
The slightly modified Qala Creek development project was again presented to Mepa in January 2006, but still ran against the draft Local Plan and ODZ status.
“However, these issues were ‘resolved’ when the final Local Plan was published in August 2006, the NGOs said yesterday.
“This had been changed without the knowledge or approval of Qala local council or the public,” the NGOs said, pointing out that the Local Plan now states: “The preferred use is to sensitively develop the area. Tourism and marine related development may be considered by Mepa.”
They add, “Mepa’s Environment Protection Directorate (EPD) took three years to get a non-biased EIS of acceptable quality from the developers, until finally a “barely certifiable version” was received. Subsequently, the EPD recommended the project’s refusal in mid-2011.
“Before the Mepa Board could give its final decision on the project, the developers withdrew the original proposal, and suggested a new one in late 2011, replacing the marina with a swimming lagoon, despite the developers previously insistence that the marina was essential to the project’s success.
“This proposal went beyond the footprint of the original application, hence Mepa requested that the developers submit a totally new application. The developers appealed against this, and the process is still ongoing.”
Sunday, March 04, 2012
Updated: NGOs ask about transfer of land at Hondoq
Published on the Times of Malta on Saturday, 3rd March, 2012.