The battle lines appear to have been drawn for tomorrow’s Malta Environmental and Planning Authority public meeting on the new proposals submitted by the would-be Ta’ Ċenċ developers, which include the contentious proposal for the construction of villas on environmentally sensitive land in Mġarr ix-Xini.
The Ta’ Ċenċ saga has been ongoing for almost two decades, with various proposals being presented to Mepa by the same developers. All the proposals have been met with harsh criticism, as the public and environmental NGOs insist that the plans will lead to the destruction of magnificent countryside.
In this latest incarnation, Mepa is being asked to issue a permit for the building of 15 villas on a 90,000 square metre ODZ plateau near Mġarr ix-Xini in Gozo. This latest proposal actually represents a reduction from the 36 villas proposed in 2007, which Mepa had deemed unacceptable.
The would-be developers are planning to mount an exhibition at Mepa’s headquarters in Floriana of the beautiful area in which it is proposed the villas be built.
It is expected that tomorrow’s meeting will be quite stormy, as developers and environmentalists clash, yet again, over the development of agricultural land. Din l-Art Helwa has described the proposed as one that will “continue the relentless destruction of the countryside”. It has called on Mepa to “throw out the new proposal’ as it ‘goes directly against all current planning policies which relate to this area”.
The Local Plan limits development on the plateau near Mgarr ix-Xini to the existing buildings and allows no further development in the area. This was specifically clarified in a letter to the Mepa Board in 2006, by the then Resources and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino who had approved the Local Plan. The letter was endorsed by the Prime Minister of the time, Lawrence Gonzi.
Also in 2006, a petition raised by Din l-Art Ħelwa against the proposed development at Ta’ Ċenċ was signed by 10,000 people and tabled in Parliament by two MPS, one from the government side and one from the Opposition, both of whom had signed the petition.
Front Harsien ODZ has also declared that Mepa should turn down the latest plans for development at Ta’ Ċenċ.
The Front has called on the government to initiate discussions on the possibility of transforming the area into a natural park and for Labour-led Sannat Local Council to declare itself against the development.
“Maltese society no longer accepts the development of new hotel extensions and villas on undeveloped ODZ land”, said Front Harsien ODZ. “Any approval of such a development would create an unacceptable precedent at a time when environmental awareness is at an all-time high. Mepa should therefore put an end to a saga that dates back to 1996 by taking a final decision on this application which respects the principle that ODZ is ODZ,” it said.
Since first being tabled in August 1996, the proposed development has been the subject of a heated discussion between all those involved – the developers themselves, the government and the environmental lobbies.
The controversy is very likely to continue in respect of the Ta’ Ċenċ area, which is rich in terms of ornithology, archaeology and endemic flora and fauna.
Perhaps most controversial of all previous proposals was the plan for the scenic cliff face area to include a golf course. Developer Victor Borg had been very ambiguous about what he actually intended to do and in one consultation meeting, said that he was still undecided about plans to develop the so-called ‘Area 7’ either as a golf course or as an area for agro-tourism.
Thankfully, Mepa threw the golf course plan out of the window. In 2008, the Authority decided to extend habitat protection to the entire area of Ta’ Ċenċ, including the plateau – a decision that was welcomed by environmental NGOs.
The entire Ta’ Ċenċ plateau was also selected by Mepa for inclusion in the EU’s Natura 2000 Network, a network of protected areas across the EU.
The cliffs are an area of international importance considering, their large populations of Cory’s Shearwaters, Yelkouan Shearwaters and European Storm Petrels, while the plateau itself is particularly important for its populations of Short-toed Larks, Streaked Fantail Warblers, Blue Rock Thrushes, Spectacled Warblers and Corn Buntings.