There are 15 persons who are appointed to sit on the board of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. They are chosen for their skill, outlook intelligence and integrity to look after the most controversial subject in this country – planning and environment. Mepas mission statement places looking after our natural and historical heritage at the forefront of their vision in order to preserve the quality of life of ourselves and those who come after us.
They will do well to remember this as over the summer (and the most controversial subjects always seem to come up over summer or Christmas) they will have to examine the ugly case of Ta Cenc which has again come up for consideration. The developer has put forward his application for an extension to the existing hotel, a new 5-star hotel, 36 bungalows (down from 49), and 38 villas at Mgarr ix-Xini (down from 57) . It also indicates an extension of the Park area and an area to be developed as phase 2 – which indicates the area of the Golf course although this is not defined. This game has been going on for years and is a case of rampant speculation par excellence. The case is complex but here I shall limit myself to one aspect of the development which seeks to build 38 villas in the Mgarr ix-Xini area.
When purchased the developer did not have any rights to develop the area except as laid out in the Structure Plan. This plan very simply states that any development was to be constructed “in the vicinity of the hotel”. The Gozo Local Plan at the public consultation stage included the words “to limit development to the lower part of the plateau” ie near Mgarr ix-Xini. Crucially after a very public campaign carried out by Din l-Art Helwa and other NGOs the wording was changed in the final approved local plan, to “to limit development in the lower part of the plateau”. The Minister of Rural Affairs and the Environment reinforced this in a letter to the Mepa chairman stating, and I quote, “Policy 14.11.3 ta Cenc should not be interpreted to allow in any way development in this ODZ area overlooking the bay. The phrase ‘limit development in the lower part of the plateau (near Mgarr ix Xini)’ is to be interpreted that development is to be limited to what is already existing in the area”.
Can anything be clearer that that. Apparently not. The developer is saying that their interpretation is that limited development can take place. Furthermore they are saying that in the Structure Plan, “vicinity to the hotel” can be stretched from the hotel, to the furthest point of the site ie Mgarr ix-Xini (over 1.5 kilometres away) and that the Minister’s letter constitutes a revision to the Local Plan which cannot take place until 2 years have passed.
In my view this is an exercise in semantics. This matter has been gone through. The interpretation is clear. The developer had no right to build when he purchased the land, the Structure Plan was clear. He has lost no rights. It would be a travesty if this area outside the development zone, with some of the most stunning scenery we have, was given over to land speculation.
Last year Din l-Art Helwa collected over 10,000 signatures for a petition against the development at Ta’ Cenc showing that public feeling is running high and that no further land should be lost to insensitive and inappropriate development.
So when the board members look at the proposal they will consider their responsibilities to this community, and even to the applicant, and judge whether there has been a change of policy or that the Structure Plan, the Local Plan and the Minister’s statement are consistent and have been so since the Structure Plan became law in the early nineties. To me the case is very clear.
30 August 2007
Martin Galea is Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa