Grave concerns voiced over Mepa's decision -
Ramla Bay development

Rosanne Zammit

Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar yesterday called for the resignation of Malta Environment and Planning Authority board members who voted in favour of the Ulysses Lodge Development overlooking Ramla l-Hamra in Gozo in view of a statement issued by four archaeologists.

It also asked for the permit for the tourist complex, issued on Tuesday, to be revoked.

And Nathaniel Cutajar, the acting Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, called for legislation to be revised to offer more protection for heritage, saying the board may have taken its decision based on inadequate information about the impact of the proposed development.

The archaeologists said in their statement on Wednesday that a report they had drawn up, attached to the application for development, had only been a general preliminary one and could not be used to consider the impacts of any proposed development on cultural heritage. Mepa had rejected the need for an environment impact assessment (EIA).

FAA spokesman Astrid Vella said that this development casts doubts on Mepa's vetting procedures not only in this case but possibly also in others.

"We have long maintained that Mepa is too ready to accept the information supplied by developers especially in waiving of EIAs of major projects. This definitely calls for the permit we have challenged so strenuously to be revoked," she said.

Ms Vella said that the declaration made by the four archaeologists pointed to the strong likelihood of further Roman remains lying unexcavated on the site.

"We maintain that given that Ramla l-Hamra is a unique spot designated a special area of conservation, it should, as far as possible, be returned to its original state and definitely not built upon any further.

"All Mepa members who voted in favour without vetting the information supplied by the developers should resign immediately."

When contacted, Mr Cutajar said the Superintendence had not been given an opportunity to review the archaeological report so it was not in a position to comment on its relevance as yet.

However, he said the case revealed to what extent the Maltese landscape failed to be protected by the current legal set-up.

"Ramla is a case study of how even the most 'perfect' of landscapes is at risk of radical redevelopment. Clearly the laws have to be reviewed to provide a greater degree of protection to this unique heritage."

Mr Cutajar pointed out that in a letter sent to the Mepa chairman on the day the case was to be considered, it was pointed out that in spite of cultural heritage considerations known in the area, the Superintendence had not been consulted about the case.

It pointed out that it was of concern that an environment impact assessement had not been carried out and its absence suggested that the board was being asked to base decisions on inadequate information and without awareness of the impact of the proposed development.

The Superintendence noted that the site overlooks an area of ecological and scientific importance and a special area of conservation, as well as a complex of sand dunes of great ecological significance.

"It is unclear whether the potential impact on the ecology of the area has been identified or taken into consideration, especially since no EIA was undertaken," it pointed out.

It said that even in the absence of an EIA, the likely visual impact on the landscape was an immediate cause for concern, and such intensive development may not be compatible with the values of the bay, the cliffs and the valley system.

The site also overlooked scheduled cultural heritage features, including the Belancourt Battery and the remains of a pathway, as well as the exceptional archaeological site that is the Roman villa surviving under the sand at the water's edge.

Cultural heritage features were also known to be present within the site of the proposed works. The so-called Calypso's cave, a documented archaeological site, was known to be within the area, where neolithic remains have been identified.

The Superintendence advised that the application should only be further considered in the light of an EIA.

A Mepa spokesman told The Times she could not answer questions in detail because the case officers concerned were abroad and would only be available early next week.

But a source at Mepa insisted that the report, part of a detailed project description statement, included enough information on which the authority could base its decision.

The source said that as the site earmarked for development was outside the buffer zone for archaeological remains, an EIA was not required, in line with EIA regulations which had passed through the scrutiny of the EU during Malta's accession negotiations.

Asked about the possibility of having the permit revoked if it was found that Mepa's decision was based on incomplete information, the Mepa spokesman said the law stated that the basis for a withdrawal of permit could be fraud, matters of public security and error in the face of the record.

For this to take place, a definite procedure had to be followed in which a specific request needed to be made.
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09 Jun 2007 by