The Malta Independent 27 April 2017, Thursday

NGOs urge Mepa to return Hondoq ir-Rummien to ODZ status

Malta Independent Sunday, 18 August 2013, 08:59 Last update: about 4 years ago

Moviment Harsien Hondoq (MMH) – together with Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Ramblers Association, NatureTrust, FOE Malta and Din l-Art Helwa – has urged the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to place Hondoq ir-Rummien back in the Outside Development Zone, where it had been before 2006 when the area had been listed as suitable for touristic and marine developments.

In a statement yesterday, the NGOs urged the Mepa Board to accept the recommendation of the authority’s Environment Protection Directorate and refuse to grant a permit for the development of Hondoq as a real estate/marina complex; to return the area to its previous ODZ status as per the Local Plan agreed between Mepa and Qala Local Council and to designate the area as a national park.

Contacted yesterday, Paul Buttigieg of MHH referred to how, in 2006, the local plan was changed to designate Hondoq as suitable for touristic and marine development “without the knowledge of Qala local council”.

The NGO is urging the public to add its voice on the issue as part of Mepa’s ongoing public participation exercise to identify shortcomings in the current local plans.

“MHH would like to take this opportunity to highlight the significant changes that were made in 2006 to the Gozo & Comino Local Plan, which altered the policy regarding Hondoq from one of rehabilitation to one in favour of development,” the NGO said in its statement yesterday. “Mepa's Audit Office admitted these ‘substantial changes’ should not have been made without public consultation.”

Opponents to the Qala Creek development project, on the back-burner for years now as plans have been redrafted several times by the would-be developers of the tourist complex, argue that Hondoq was “re-designated for tourism and marine-related uses in 2006, without public consultation”.

Previously, the policy agreed between Mepa and Qala Local Council had stated that: “The preferred use is to reclaim the area either for agricultural use or afforestation.”

“Had the due consultation process been followed, it is highly unlikely such changes would have been accepted,” MHH said yesterday. It also notes that Mepa’s Environment Protection Directorate & Natural Heritage Panel have recommended the project be rejected, as had Transport Malta and the Church Environmental Commission.

The area, as MHH points out, also lies between two proposed Areas of Ecological Importance, and is classified as an Area of High Landscape Sensitivity (AHLS), and a Category A Valley.

“The Planning Authority talks of the importance of the high scenic value of Gozo’s coastline and valleys, and how these landscapes should be protected and enhanced for both Gozo’s quality of life and its economy.

“As an ODZ, Hondoq should have been protected by the policy which states that there is ‘a blanket prohibition of any form of urbanisation outside areas specifically designated for urban uses’. There are some exceptions, however most of these are ruled out by another policy regulating an AHLS, which states: ‘Apart from the normal restrictions on development in rural areas, there shall be a strong presumption against the creation of new built structures’.”

As a Category A Valley, MHH observes that “there should normally be ‘no new physical development’ on its sides. The valley may have seen quarrying activity, but is a valley nonetheless, and should undergo rehabilitation as per Rural Conservation Policy.

“Also, conservation guidelines for the adjacent Areas of Ecological Importance range from ‘no residential, industrial or tourism development’ to ‘no physical development’ whatsoever. It is incongruous that a high density residential village should be allowed between two such areas.”

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