Shame! -
Sunday, June 17, 2007

The granting of a permit by Mepa for the development of villas with pools at Ramla l-Hamra (brought to the public’s attention by this paper on 6 November 2005) is nothing short of scandalous and cries out for immediate remedial action by the government. Indeed, the board members at Mepa who voted in favour of the villa development should resign, given that by approving this development they showed a total lack of sensitivity for Malta and Gozo’s history and environment.

Until last week, the country had been led to believe that Ramla l-Hamra was protected from being turned into another development area – it was outside the development zone, as established by the government and Mepa itself. But this was not to be, as Mepa ignored this and proceeded to issue permits for the construction of no less than 23 detached villas with pools.

This permit is based on an original application and Mepa approval for the “Re-development of an existing fully licensed commercial complex” as per Mepa application REF05138/02.

Some people may have got the impression that the property referred to is some nondescript farmhouse. There is absolutely no indication that this in fact relates to the Ulysses Lodge site that was developed many years ago amid significant controversy and that, up to this very day, people question the legality of all the structures erected on the site.

For the “ordinary” citizen, Mepa regulations stipulate that even before considering an application it is necessary to have all existing structures fully compliant with planning permits. In this case, a number of private roads and vast stretches of parking areas have been created on the adjoining land. Were these built legally or not? The Mepa case officer was duty bound to ensure that they had been built in conformity with permits and if not, the application should have been rejected until such time as all the existing structures were sanctioned by Mepa or removed altogether.

The public needs to be informed about this fundamental point, as the application made by the developers seems to hinge on this fact. That is to say, Mepa is not allowed at law to grant a permit for the building of villas on virgin land against the same area of existing structures that did not have a permit in the first place and that should have been removed altogether!

The archaeological importance of the site is known to everyone and the declaration by the archaeologists engaged by the developers that they were not informed as to the use for which their report was being made beggars belief and speaks volumes. We question the wisdom of allowing the commissioning of reports paid for by the developers, who then use them to strengthen their chances of obtaining permits.

The silence of Minister George Pullicino who carries responsibility for Mepa’s (ill-) doings and who one understands was given advance notice that this application “stank” has now been broken, if that is the correct term, by statements he gave The Times yesterday. Minister Giovanna Debono, who considers herself as Gozo’s champion, seems to have lost her power of speech on this issue. Where does she stand on the issue – with the public or the developers?

Surely the saving of the Calypso Cave and Ramla l-Hamra environment should rise above party politics and not be allowed to become a political football. Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja is duty bound to get a clear, unequivocal and undistorted answer to all the questions being raised by everyone and anyone. He should not forget that Mepa stands for Malta Environment and Planning Authority and not Malta Easy Permits (for some!) Authority. Mr Calleja, as a steward of our environment, should be encouraging dialogue rather than threatening to boycott Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar. No Mepa official is above the law. Each of them is accountable for his (in)actions and is there to serve the public in general – “ordinary” citizens included.

Our prime minister recently showed significant political maturity when he did not hesitate to review his government’s position on the golf course at Ix-Xaghra l-Hamra by actually designating it as a national park.

Mepa cannot be allowed to continue with the way it is operating. In the past, one minister could decide who, what and where could be developed. That was manifestly wrong and helped bring down a party from power. Then Mepa was created and we now have a situation where one can engage a person(s) who will take you by the hand and guide you through the tunnels, hoops and hurdles at Mepa all the way to the issue of permits.

The situation now is one where those “ordinary” citizens who are silly enough to build a little shed in their back garden without running the Mepa gauntlet are treated with an iron fist while the smooth (or is it oily?) ones who “know the route” seem to get away with much, much more.

This must stop and the government must show maturity by commissioning an independent investigation into how this application has travelled so far.

Prime Minister Gonzi, Malta turns to you to save Ramla.
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18 Jun 2007 by