Ramla l-Hamra development - Mepa chairman challenges FAA to substantiate its claims - http://www.independent.com.mt/
by Juan Ameen
The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) chairman yesterday directly challenged Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar spokesman Astrid Vella, saying that he will resign if Ms Vella substantiates certain statements she made in the local media following Mepa’s approval of the full development application in respect of Ulysses Lodge in Xaghra, Gozo.
Speaking at a press conference, an angry Mr Calleja went on to say that unless Ms Vella substantiates these comments, she will have to retract them and issue a public apology to the Mepa board. If she refuses to do so, Mr Calleja said, he was seriously considering initiating legal procedures against her.
The press conference had been called, Mr Calleja explained, to clarify the facts behind the process of approval and the development application itself.
“The facts regarding this case were twisted, if not, in certain statements, blatantly turned into lies,” he said.
In a press statement issued last week, Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) called on Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Rural Affairs and Environment Minister George Pullicino to launch an immediate inquiry into the Ramla l-Hamra development permit. The FAA also called for the permit issued to be annulled since it had been obtained with misleading information and, in addition, called for the resignation of the Mepa chairman and board.
Many NGOs and organisations have expressed their disapproval and outrage, following Mepa’s approval of the development.
Mr Calleja said that until Ms Vella had taken a decision to either substantiate her claims or retract them, the FAA will not be given any preferential treatment and will be boycotted.
“This does not mean that the FAA’s legal rights will be affected – by law they are allowed to come and view the documents whenever they wish. However, the Mepa directorate will not go out of its way to accommodate the FAA to be purposely misinterpreted,” added the chairman.
He also said: “If Ms Vella manages to substantiate the allegations she has made regarding irregularities, then I will step down from my post.
“I would like to say that there are NGOs and NGOs. I truly admire the way Rudolph Ragonesi from Gaia Foundation put forward his arguments during the public hearing,” said Mr Calleja.
The chairman complained about several articles that had appeared in newspapers and electronic media.
“One particular e-newspaper put a map on their website that was completely incorrect and showed the development as being at least three times larger than it actually is – among other inaccuracies,” said Mr Calleja.
“In fact,” he said, “Not even my wife could understand what was going on when she saw this map – I had to clearly explain to her what was happening.”
Mr Calleja said that the outline development application had been submitted in 2002 and no objections had been recorded.
The Project Description Statement (PDS) was submitted on 23 May 2005 and included various reports such as an ecological appraisal, geo-environmental impact assessment and the design of the development.
“It was said that an Environment Impact Assess-ment (EIA) had not been submitted as part of the development application. However, people have to understand that a PDS forms part of an EIA – an EIA is a process and not just a document,” he said.
However, said Mr Calleja, it has to be compiled according to the terms of reference stated by Mepa.
The EIA process can stop when the PDS has been submitted if there is enough information to take an informed decision, he added.
When asked what can be defined as an “informed decision”, Mr Calleja replied that as long as there is enough information about the project submitted in the PDS, then the EIA can be waived.
“No objections had been raised when the notice stating that the EIA on this development had been waived appeared in the Government Gazette two years ago in 2005,” said Mr Calleja.
Following the submission of the full development application, in 2005, there had been only three registered objections, he pointed out.
“There is a whole misconception about redevelopment of the area in question. The development will only take place in the disturbed area known as Zone C (circa 7,000 square metres),” said Mr Calleja.
Furthermore, development within an Outside Develop-ment Zone (ODZ) can only be approved if there is sufficient justification.
When asked what was considered to be sufficient justification, Mr Calleja said that, according to Mepa’s structure plan, redevelopment within an ODZ can only be approved if the project will be used as a tourist area.
He pointed out that the description of the full development application was changed at the Mepa hearing from “dwelling units” to “tourist complex” to further clarify that the property was only to be used as a tourist centre.
The application process of both the outline development application and the full development permit had been carried out in the open and “no one can say that it was hush-hush,” said Mr Calleja.
“In fact, I had actually received an email from the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage on the morning of the public hearing, that I submitted to the case officer concerned. Strangely enough, the email from the Superintendent was very similar to the remarks made by Ms Vella,” added Mr Calleja.
However, if the Superintendent had been truly concerned about any archaeological remains in the area, he could have issued an emergency conservation order – something that was not done, he said pointedly.
In a separate statement issued following a protest organised at Ramla l-Hamra Bay on Saturday, Green Party (AD) chairman Harry Vassallo said the issue of a permit was an environmental and planning blasphemy which could not be tolerated.
Ramblers Association president Lino Bugeja also addressed the meeting and said that if this development was allowed to proceed, it was hard to imagine what other development outrages could be prevented.
“If anyone imagined that the issue of the permit was the end of the affair, he was seriously mistaken. We are committed to support the residents of Ramla l-Hamra, just as we supported those involved with the Ta’ Cenc and Xaghra l-Hamra, in their fight for their basic human rights,” said Dr Vassallo.
“As registered objectors, we will appeal before the Mepa Appeals Board, we will take the matter to our domestic courts and before every enforcement agency in the EU. We are already in touch with the DG Environment, which is fully aware of the situation,” he added.
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