FAA calls for inquiry into Ramla l-Hamra permit and resignation of MEPA Board - http://www.independent.com.mt
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar said in a statement yesterday it notes 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 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. Members of the public and NGOs were given the opportunity to expound the reasons why the application on the other hand 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 focusing 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” (ToM, 8 June).
This turn of events is extremely worrying since it indicates two important issues.
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 Environment Impact Assessment was not necessary. FAA has long maintained that MEPA is far too ready to accept unquestioningly developers’ information on major projects, and this casts doubts on other permits that 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
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.
In view of the irregularities raised at the hearing, now further aggravated by the archaeologists’ revelations that their study was only a cultural heritage report never intended to be used as an environment assessment tool, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar 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 set up an immediate inquiry into this case as well as for the resignation of the MEPA chairman and board members.
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