Ramla l-Hamra villas decision shelved until after elections? - http://www.maltastar.com
The destruction of Gozo's natural heritage
Mepa yet to contact 'Save Ramla'

david vella Tue, 28 August 2007

A decision on three formal requests calling on Mepa to cancel the controversial permits for the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra may not be taken until after the upcoming general election.

In June, Mepa granted a permit for the building of 23 villas on the slopes leading to the picturesque Ramla l-Hamra, next to two protected sites, including the remains of a 2,000 year old Roman villa around 50 metres away. The decision has brought the ire of many, with a petition against the development going up to over 7,000 signatures, and all environmental NGOs actively protesting against the proposed project.

Ramla l-Hamra, in Xaghra, Gozo, was classified fourteenth in the list of the 20 most beautiful bays in the world, compiled by ‘The Sunday Times’ of London.

To decide or not to decide

Government is trying hard to postpone the decision on the formal requests of environmental NGOs to revoke the permits. After trying to polish its tarnished green credentials by pompously announcing that it backtracked on the Prime Minister’s proposal to build a golf course at Xaghra l-Hamra, limits of Mellieha, the recent permits in Gozo put government back in the environmentalists’ line of fire.

With the Nationalist Party in government supporting the development of the villas, and the Labour Opposition pledging to use all possible means to stop the destruction of this pristine natural bay, it is very likely that a decision on the environmentalists’ requests will not be issued before the election.

Sources at the Office of the Prime Minister told the Sunday newspaper Kullhadd that Mepa is being pressured to go slow on the green NGOs’ requests, so that the matter will not be raised again on the eve of an election, which may be announced any time between the end of this year, and the first quarter of 2008.

But Mepa and government are stuck between a rock and a hard place. While the election points towards deferring, sources within the authority confirmed that the developer is urging the authorities to get it over and done with. He insists the environmentalists’ objections do not hold water.

Developers requested PM’s help

When contacted, Lino Bianco, the architect commissioned by the ‘Save Ramla’ action committee to investigate the permits, told this e-newspaper he filed two technical reports and a request for the revocation of the permits in mid July. Since then the ‘Save Ramla’ committee received an acknowledgement letter. Carmen Bajada, a Labour councillor and the committee’s spokesperson, told maltastar.com they received nothing else from the authority.

Government has actively supported the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra. The environment minister, himself an architect, insisted he would have only reduced the footprint of the project, but never said he would be ready to stop the development completely. Even the Gozo Minister stated she stands by Mepa’s decision.

In the meantime, it turned out that months before the application was granted, the developers asked the Prime Minister to intervene as the process was facing a deadlock. The Prime Minister ordered one of his top officials, who is also a Mepa board member, to act as an intermediary between the authority and the developers. This official at the Office of the Prime Minister eventually was one of the 10 Mepa board members who in June voted in favour of issuing the permit granted to the same developers. Only Dr Joe Brincat, the Labour Opposition’s representative on the Mepa board, voted against the project.

A promise to stop destruction

A few weeks ago, Opposition Leader Dr Alfred Sant pledged that a Labour government will use all available means at local and international level to stop the construction project at Ramla l-Hamra. Throughout the last months, Labour has consistently supporting the green NGOs’ objections to the project.

At least one NGO has filed an appeal against the Mepa decision to approve the project. According to the Mepa website, “the Planning Appeals Board will review all the details prior to taking a decision.”

‘Save Ramla’ filed the other two requests for withdrawal of permits, each based on a technical report penned by the consultant. Bianco discovered that the developers’ architects had allegedly defrauded Mepa, by including “false, misleading or incorrect” information in the first ‘outline’ application for the project. Moreover, he found out that Mepa had issued a permit for the villas even on part of the earmarked area that is listed as a public pathway owned by government.

Boycott still on

During a mass protest organised by all environmental NGOs in June, hundreds of Maltese and Gozitans gathered in Valletta shouting slogans calling for the annulment of the permit, and accusing Mepa of shortcomings and irregularities. And ‘Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar’ (Together for a Better Environment), one of the NGOs at the forefront of the protests, is still subject to a boycott by Mepa.

The Mepa Board chairman declared the boycott after its members called for the immediate resignation of the Mepa board members who voted in favour of this project. The authority has not yet withdrawn the boycott .
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29 Aug 2007 by Saveramla.com