Ta’ Tenc Development – Petition launched
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With the countryside constantly under siege from development applications, Din l-Art Helwa, a non governmental watchdog, is among a handful of NGOs bent on defending the island’s natural heritage and has launched a petition to try to stop the proposed development at Ta’ Tenc.
“Public opinion seems to be that there has been enough development on green areas and we should be taking care of the little that’s left,” said Martin Galea, president of the organisation that also acts as a national trust for historic buildings.
Its latest battle is to save the unspoilt area of Ta’ Cenc in Gozo. A few weeks ago it started circulating a petition over the internet to rally opposition to a proposed multi-ownership hotel development which has horrified environmentalists.
In a matter of days, over 4,000 signatures have been collected and more than 1,000 of these came in within the first 24 hours, which to Mr Galea demonstrates the public’s keenness to preserve the region.
DLH is hoping to collect a total of 20,000 signatures and then present the petition to the Prime Minister, the Rural Affairs Minister, Mepa’s chairman, the EU Commissioner for the Environment and the President of the European Parliament.
The target is an application submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in 1996 that proposes a new five-star hotel, an extension of the existing hotel, 49 bungalows to be built along the ridge overlooking Xewkija and another 57 villas on the promontory overlooking the unique valley and creek of Mgarr ix-Xini. The application also broaches the possibility of an 18-hole golf course and an area for future unspecified development.
But if the application was filed in 1996, why start the petition 10 years later?
Mr Galea explained that the Environmental Impact Statement of the application was completed recently and DLH wanted to be prepared for any eventuality.
“The developers obviously went through with the EIS because they believe that have a chance of getting the green light for their project,” he said.
Mr Galea cannot begin to understand how the application for such extensive development at Ta’ Cenc was submitted in the first place since it would lie outside the development zone established by the Structure Plan, approved by Parliament in 1992.
The current owner purchased the area in question after the Structure Plan was issued and was fully aware of the extent that he could, or could not, develop. This was in fact reflected in the price he acquired the property for, Mr Galea said.
“The fact that most of the proposed development goes against the Structure Plan means that the application should have been rejected outright.”
Policy TOU 10 of the Structure Plan talks of the potential for Malta’s first national park in the area and the possibility of Malta’s first multi-ownership tourism hotel development in the vicinity of the existing Ta’ Cenc Hotel. This is the only development permissible by the plan. There is no mention of further development away from the existing hotel, and marring the area overlooking Mgarr ix-Xini.
Mr Galea is also baffled by the fact that the Draft Plan for Gozo and Comino, released in 2002, was suddenly saying that development in the region of Ta’ Cenc had “to be limited to the lower part of the plateau near Mgarr ix-Xini”, when before there was never any mention of development in the Structure Plan.
The petition calls on Mepa to adhere to the Structure Plan and urges the authorities to review their reasons for excluding, Ta’ Cenc as a candidate for special protection as part of the European Natura 2000 network.
Mr Galea insisted that since the application was submitted in 1996, the plans had changed considerably and, if anything, a new application should be submitted in order to allow the public to make their objections.
How did DLH feel about the fact that it was having to be a watchdog over Mepa, when it was actually the latter’s job to protect the environment?
“True, Mepa’s role is to regulate what is built where, but at the moment we feel that the balance is still on the side of the developer and far too little is being done to protect our land,” he said.
He pointed out that in Malta there was enough land within the development zone for over 98,000 dwellings and a mere 41,200 were needed by 2020.
DLH believed Mepa had to be strengthened and made more independent and transparent.
“The authority tries hard to be credible, and most of the people working in the authority do a good job. However, there have recently been some high profile decisions or lack of enforcement that have dented its image,” he said.
Delving into the government’s recent decision to address the anomalies in the development boundaries of the 1998 Temporary Planning Schemes, Mr Galea said he could not fathom why such a proposal was made.
“Whenever you have any sort of planning and you draw the line somewhere, so-called injustices are always going to arise, so I cannot understand why they have taken the decision to expand the development area at this stage,” he said.
“Malta already looks like a building zone, a situation that is upsetting a lot of locals and tourists alike, but still we persist.
“I think the government will ignore the environment at its own peril. Most people have realised that we’ve already lost too much and our quality of life is being adversely affected.
“Both parties pay lip service to the environment, but many are of the opinion that the environment is a vote loser, while giving out land for development may actually win votes.”