FAA calls for Mepa board resignation, annulment of permit - http://www.maltastar.com/
09 June 2007
Flimkien g©¤al Ambjent A©¤jar (FAA) is calling for the annulment of the Ramla l-Hamra development permit and the resignation of the Mepa board claiming a series of irregularities, misleading or fraudulent information by the developer.
On Wednesday 6 June, the Mepa board scandalously approved the development of 23 villas, with pools in one of the most picturesque areas on the Maltese islands, Ramla l-Hamra, Gozo.
¡°In view of the irregularities raised at the hearing, further aggravated by the archaeologists¡¯ revelations that their study was only a cultural heritage report and was never intended to be used as an environment assessment tool, Flimkien g©¤al Ambjent A©¤jar invokes the application of Article 39a by which a permit is annulled in the case of misleading information being given by the developer, fraudulently or otherwise. Furthermore FAA calls on the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister to call an immediate inquiry into this case as well as for the resignation of the Mepa Chairman and Board members,¡± said the environmental NGO.
In this case Mepa never sought a full environmental impact assessment. But the Mepa board, during the public hearing, said it was satisfied with a number of studies presented by the developer, including an archaeological study.
The archaeologists who worked on the study later on this week issued a statement saying that their study, which is a ¡°general preliminary report about cultural heritage¡±, cannot be used to consider the impacts of any proposed development on cultural heritage.
In a statement, FAA noted with great concern that the Ramla l-Hamra developers¡¯ so-called in-depth archaeological study on which Mepa based both its waiver of an EIA for the Ramla l-Hamra villas project as well as its decision to approve the permit, turns out to be nothing more than a general preliminary cultural heritage report.
FAA was present at the Mepa Board ¡®Public Hearing¡¯ on Wednesday 6 June when the case officer, Robert Vella, presented the project to the board members, listing a great number of reasons why the application should be approved.
During the hearing members of the public and NGOs presented a number of reasons why the application should not be approved listing the main ones:
1. The Outline permit was granted on the grounds that the new project will occupy the same footprint as the old structures, when in fact it is over twice as large.
2. The Rationalisation schemes were supposed to prevent any more development in ODZ (Out of Development Zones).
3. The site is of high landscape value, and an ecologically sensitive area bordering a Natura 2000 site.
4. The site is an archaeologically sensitive area.
When challenged by FAA, the applicant claimed that an in-depth study by four archaeologists confirmed that the area is of no particular archaeological interest.
It now turns out that the report was no in-depth investigation but only a report focussing on the proposal of a heritage trail. In a courageous statement, the four archaeologists engaged to prepare it asserted that they were never informed that their report would be attached to a development permit application: ¡°A general preliminary report about cultural heritage cannot be used to consider the impacts of any proposed development on cultural heritage.¡±
¡°This turn of events is extremely worrying since it indicates two important issues,¡± said FAA.
The first is the fact that neither the case officer nor the members of the Board vetted the report properly before deciding that the area has no archaeological potential and that an EIA is not necessary. FAA has long maintained that Mepa is far too ready to accept unquestioningly developers¡¯ information on major projects, and this casts doubts upon other permits which have been approved on the strength of information supplied by developers.
Similarly the letter sent by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage calling for an EIA was not read out until Astrid Vella representing FAA and the Xaghra Local Council drew attention to the existence of this letter which calls for an EIA to be commissioned before the decision on the permit was taken.
Mepa board named
The FAA said that in spite of these very serious discrepancies being pointed out to the members of the MEPA Board before the vote was taken, only Dr. Joseph Brincat voted against the project, while the following still voted in favour of the badly flawed development permit: Andrew Calleja, Catherine Galea, Godwin Cassar, Sandra Sladden, Joseph Falzon, Simone Vella, Leonard Callus, Saviour Gauci, Michael Ellul, Godwin Debono and Joe Tabone Iacono.
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