Ramla l-Hamra controversy: FAA refutes Mepachairman’s ‘allegations’ - http://independent.com.mt
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The environment NGO Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, FAA, yesterday faulted the reasoning of Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja about the availability of information on the controversial Ramla l-Hamra development, the approval of which has raised a wave of criticism.
The chairman of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority had said that “the facts on the Ramla l-Hamra development have been freely available since 2005”.
This had no bearing on the case, said the FAA. “Just because an application is ‘freely available’ does not necessarily mean that the public, or a non-
governmental organisation, will automatically know about a project report unless alerted to it in some way or another.
“Moreover, facts can emerge at the last moment, often after the application has been approved or when a public consultation takes place at very short notice so that only a few people can attend. That an application had been made for the tourist complex at Ramla l- Hamra was not widely known until a late stage in the proceedings.”
FAA said this was why the waiving of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) was so serious. Not only did an EIA ensure a professional study of the effects that a development would have on the heritage, ecology and human community, it also ensured that the project reports reached the public through consultation, which did not necessarily happen if the need for an EIA is waived.
According to the terms of the Aarhus Convention on public freedom of access to environmental information, it was Mepa’s duty to disseminate such information, said FAA. However “we have often observed that a great deal of the information is not available for consultation, as is the case with the auditor’s reports. Indeed if, as asserted by Mr Calleja, information is so readily available from Mepa, the first step in the right direction for Mepa to make would be to make the auditor’s report available – or does this report cast further doubts on the processing of this application?”
FAA said it would also like to set the record straight about Mepa’s claim that “no interest was shown at the time by FAA to view the PDS (Project Description Statement)”.
The moment FAA became aware of the serious issues at stake, it said, they spoke to the Rural Affairs and the Environment Ministry and a meeting with Mepa Major Projects was set for the late afternoon to allow the Gozitan parties to participate.
“When we asked to examine the papers in the file, we were informed that we could only see the Case Officer’s report. Had we been allowed to see the PDS, would it not have been listed together with that of the Case Officer’s report? This may have been a genuine oversight on the official’s part, but it was certainly not due to lack of interest on our part. We did, however, see the plans, which did not conform to Mepa regulations which stipulate that the developer is obliged to submit originals, not photocopies of plans in a different scale to the ones previously submitted. The Mepa chairman’s claim is therefore not correct.”
It was also to be noted, it added, that while FAA did its best to avoid confrontation on this issue through “consultation with stakeholders” as is purported to be Mepa’s policy, the reasonable requests of FAA and other NGOs, as well as that of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, to simply postpone the decision pending further investigation had been totally ignored by the Mepa board. This was yet more proof that where developers’ interests were at stake, public consultation is reduced to a sham.
FAA said archaeologists had focused on creating a heritage trail. Among the points made by Archaeology Services Cooperative Ltd (ASC) and Katya Stroud was that theirs was a preliminary study that did not address the impact of any development in the area or any mitigation measures that might have to be carried out to ensure the preservation of the cultural heritage.
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Only 800 square metres will be taken up by pools in Ramla – Mepa
The area that will be taken up by the swimming pools around the new structure in Ramla l-Hamra will increase the area being developed by six per cent, around 800 square metres, with the entire area covering a total of almost 8,000 square metres, The Malta Independent has learnt.
One of the conditions listed in the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) structure plan, especially where an Outside Development Zone (ODZ) is concerned, is that swimming pools do not need to be included in the outline master plan as long as they are close to the area of development.
It was also made very clear during the public hearing that development will only take place in the area known as Zone C – amounting to around 7,000 square metres.
According to the structure plans, development in ODZ can only take place if the structure will be used as a tourist area.
Mepa clearly stated in the full development application, even adding another condition a few days before the public hearing, that development can only be used for tourist accommodation. The condition also specified that it cannot be leased for over a year to one person and for not longer than two months on timeshare.
The line of vision of the complex will be lower than that of the present building and to a large extent, the development will be covered by trees.
A Mepa spokesman explained that the landscaping is clearly described in the development application and that each and every tree is listed by species and position.
“There are certain trees that need to be planted before the development starts – the developer will have to take care and work around them.”
There had been no registered objections when the hearing for the outline development was held two years ago in July.
Furthermore, sources said, there was no one present from the media, NGOs or the public during the public hearing.
However, they added, two years down the line, there was a sudden outcry when the public hearing for the full development plan took place.
Sources pointed out that the re-development will not take up any more land than is taken up by the present buildings.
The approval of the full outline application had led several NGOs and individuals to publicly criticise Mepa’s decision.
The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, among others, was quoted as saying that there were several irregularities in the application process and that Mepa should have consulted it.
During a recent press conference, Mr Calleja stated clearly that there had been no irregularities in the development process and that, four months away from the end of his tenure, he was ready to stake his position as chairman if any emerged.
However, this newspaper has learnt that the Superin-tendent of Cultural Heritage had a meeting yesterday with Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja over these statements.
Sources said that the Superintendent had admitted his mistake and said that there was no need for Mepa to consult them.
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