‘National protest’ on Ramla l-Hamra development - http://www.independent.com.mt/
by Juan Ameen
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The Xaghra local council, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar and the Ramblers’ Association are among the various NGOs organising a “national protest” next week against the recently-approved development of 23 villas overlooking Ramla L-Hamra Bay, as was announced yesterday during a press conference held in front of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa).
The protest will take place on Monday at 6.30pm in front of City Gate, Valletta.
In its reply, Mepa once again pointed out that the full development application was granted following the approval of the outline permit for which no objections whatsoever were received.
During the press conference, Xaghra councillor Carmen Bajada appealed to all those who have care for the environment and have the welfare of Xaghra at heart to participate.
“We want all those who care for Xaghra and Malta’s environment to participate. We are duty-bound to protect it,” she said.
She pointed out that the online petition on the website www.saveramla.com already collected over 5,000 signatures over a short timespan with signatures from people hailing from 54 different countries.
Ms Bajada added that the Xaghra local council is united on this issue, as was clearly seen when the local council turned out in full force when Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) organised a protest a few weeks ago.
Ms Bajada quoted a statement made by Environment and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino that appeared recently in the local media where he stated “I think that Mepa should have reduced the building density of the development.”
She pointed out that if Mr Pullicino really meant what he said, he is more than welcome to help them stop this development taking place “as there are clear ways by which this can be achieved – primarily through investigating the legality of the outline permit.”
Ms Bajada went on to say the approval of the development will give green light to other illegal developments.
She explained that there were enforcement notices issued for illegal works on the site in question, and that the Mepa website clearly shows which areas were disturbed and which are covered with a permit.
Ramblers’ Association of Malta president Lino Bugeja pointed out that according to the Constitution, “it is the government and not Mepa who is the guardian of Malta’s heritage.”
He added that Ramla L-Hamra has a wealth of “outstanding, historical, archaeological, aesthetic and military sites.”
Furthermore, said Mr Bugeja, Gozo has a close connection with the “father of European history, Homer.”
He said that Nadur has the right credentials, and applied to the EU for recognition as the European Destination of Excellence.
Mr Bugeja mentioned a meeting held with Mepa about three months ago when it was said that the number of Environment Impact Assessment reports will be drastically reduced.
“Obviously we protested and received verbal abuse over this,” he added.
Furthermore, said Mr Bugeja, Mepa was instituted to rectify past mistakes and “not to perpetrate them.”
Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) spokesperson Astrid Vella said she wished to clarify recent statements made by the Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja and Mr Pullicino, who said that FAA received preferential treatment.
“I would like to state that this is not so – this statement is an insult to the public. Everyone has the right to meetings and to viewing Mepa documents that are available to the public,” said Ms Vella.
All the information can be found on Mepa’s website, including the enforcement notices on illegal development, said Ms Vella.
If the development takes place, it will give the go-ahead for buildings to be built on an illegal basis, she added.
“It is impossible for 23 villas to be built legally – this development is pushing for illegal structures,” she said.
Ms Vella also pointed out that Mepa has denied access to its files to members of the Valletta, Cottonera and Floriana Rehabilitation Committee.
“We have requested several times for this report to be made public but this has always been denied. Mepa’s reticence makes us wonder what irregularities there are,” concluded Ms Vella.
Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Din L-Art Helwa, Nature Trust, Moviment Graffitti and BirdLife Malta are among the NGOs that will also participate in the protest.
In a statement issued later, Mepa pointed out that there were only two enforcement notices in their records – of these only one is still active.
One of these is related to excavations without permit (ENF 732/93) and is marked at the upper end of the site.
Mepa pointed out that the case was filed as “possible breach detected.” As a result, the enforcement notice was withdrawn, with no further action taken.
The second enforcement notice was issued in the name of Mario Grech for demolition and reconstruction works on the old building, said Mepa.
It explained that there is no request for the sanctioning of these works because the restoration method statement is indicating the complete restoration of the old building, i.e. the removal of the works constituting the breach of planning law.
“Had there been the intention of retaining these works in part or in full, then these would have to be regularised, and the request would have had to include the sanctioning of illegal works.
“As it stands, this was not the case,” Mepa said.
There were no other legal actions registered on site and while the issue of the legality of the structures was discussed at outline stage, it was agreed that the development permit for the construction was enough to indicate that the area had been committed by previous planning decisions, said Mepa.
“The construction of the road and the parking spaces, although not indicated in the approved plans, at that time were considered as ancillary to the development.
“In fact, no legal action was taken by the predecessors of Mepa,” it added.
Furthermore, said Mepa, as far as the ecological levels of importance are concerned, they are as yet of candidate status in the local plan and these issues were taken into account during the application process.
The site of development is the only disturbed area in question, as can be clearly seen in photos released by Mepa, it added
Mepa once again pointed out that the full development application was granted following the approval of the outline permit for which no objections whatsoever were received.
“If the action group deems it has the material necessary to prove that the outline permit ought to be withdrawn, it can initiate the process stipulated in article 39A of the Development Planning Act and this should be done immediately in the public interest,” it said.
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