The Malta Independent 22 March 2018, Thursday

What’s at risk if development of Bulebel takes place?

Rebecca Iversen Sunday, 18 February 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 1 month ago

Behind the industrial estate of Bulebel and the village of Zejtun, the fields of agricultural land are filled with all sorts of secret pockets of history. However, with the news of possible industrial development in the area all this could be lost.

This week in Parliament, Economy Minister Chris Cardona said the 120,000 square metre of land in Bulebel was still marked for possible industrial development. Additionally, in an interview on TVM on 28 January, Malta Industrial Parks chief executive Karl Azzopardi remarked that, "It's high time to kick start it as the land is the only area that remains in the hands of MIP and the government, which is predefined as an industrial estate. However, we are being careful and sensitive on how this is done."

But for the Għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun group, the protection of this land is a necessity. For the farmers it is not just part of their livelihood but also their legacy. One particular farmer told this newspaper that this land has been farmed by his forefathers since the late 1800s.

Wirt iż-Żejtun is a local non-government organization (NGO) working in the heritage sector. It was launched on the initiative of a group of people, mostly hailing from Zejtun, in 2010. The president of Għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun, architect Reuben Abela revealed the extent of the consequences at stake if such industrial development was to take place.

"In 2015, farmers had seen surveyors reviewing the area so we decided to contact the Office of the Prime Minister but when we received no reply, we assumed that perhaps the interest in the area had waned," Abela said.

However at the end of last year farmers received eviction notices with legal orders from the government that they had to vacate the land within a month's time, Abela told The Malta Independent on Sunday. The land which belongs to the government had been loaned to farmers since the 1960s rent free, which, Abela explains, allows the government to take over the land when needed - in this case for development.

Taking a stroll through the rich agricultural land and still untouched wild meadows, farmers can be seen repairing damage caused by the storm the previous night. In the midst of this greenery, Abela explains in detail the consequences of industrial development in the area. In terms of archaeological and historic finds, this NGO has already found various interesting remains.

"We have just found armour from Grand Master Perellos' time, the 1600s, in this farmhouse here. We have also discovered clay from Punic times and farmers have even found large sea snails whose shells were used to produce the very rare purple dye along with cloth from Punic times," Abela said, adding that this was enough cultural and archaeological evidence to rule out any development.

"In 2011-2012, the building of a factory was halted in the area after Punic tombs were found; the archaeological evidence is clearly evident," Abela noted.

Explaining the history of the land, Abela said the development goes back to the 1960s, "where plans started from 'Triq il-Baranini' to where the current development of the St James Hospital is being built down near to Zejtun". Development of the industrial estate carried on through the 1970s and, by the 1980s, development stopped due to alterations to the plan; and by 1988 the temporary provision schemes saw changes and the factories were built how we know them today.

Abela added that there had already been opposition from the local councils, residents and department of agricultural land before, in the 1980s. In fact, so much so that the department of agricultural land "certified the area as of high agricultural value" yet pressure remained that the land was still desperately needed for future industrial development.

According to the Local Plan in 2006, alterations were made but the 120,000 square metres were reserved for future extension. Nonetheless, it was made clear that since it had been deemed as being of high agricultural value, various studies would have to be made before any development takes place.

With regard to the environment, Abela addressed the issue of noise pollution, "Even today there is terrible noise pollution from the industrial estate due to the machinery. Imagine if these were going to be even closer; for some it would only be 100 metres away from their home". "Even the idea of urban settlement, the concept of an idea of a green belt around the village of Zejtun will be non-existent, with only two small fields left," he said.

Walking through the fields, Abela pointed out the different types of native trees that surround the area.

"There are about 70 carob trees in this zone which by law are protected and cannot be removed, along with many olive trees which are synonymous to Zejtun. We even have farmers here who cultivate honey and therefore any development could affect a whole ecosystem because the bees here rely on carob trees for honey," Abela explained. In these fields, various foods are cultivated, from potatoes to strawberries and grapes harvested to make wine.

No information has been released by the government or Malta Industrial Parks as to what the industrial development would be used for. Abela also confirmed that no one from the government has contacted them or given any information about any plans; the only reason they knew about the plans was through the eviction letters and the media very recently.

Earlier this week the Zejtun Local Council also objected to any extension to the industrial estate and changes in its boundaries. In the annual meeting, the council stipulated its reasons for objection as the following:

  • The area is high value agricultural land as stated by the Department of Agriculture in the South Malta Local Plan;
  • The area contains Punic archaeological remains and other cultural assets which should be preserved and protected;
  • The residents of Ġebel San Martin should be protected from further noise pollution.

On 25 February, L-Ghaqda Wirt iż-Zejtun will be holding an informative walk at Bulebel at 9:30am for all those who want to know and understand more the cultural, social and environmental aspects of the area. Abela emphasised that this was not a protest with placards or anything of that nature but an informative morning for the public to understand what the land truly offers.

The NGO is also running a petition to stop any plans for industrial development. For more information on Bulebel, the Wirth iż-Zejtun, and to sign the petition, visit

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