The Malta Independent 17 February 2020, Monday

Irrational With Marsascala: shocking building proposals for scheduled properties

Malta Independent Sunday, 18 June 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

As The Malta Independent on Sunday continues to analyse Cabinet’s decision to rationalise development boundaries, it appears that the deeper one digs, the more one discovers. The latest revelations with regard to Marsascala indicate that a considerable area of pristine agricultural land has been yet again allocated for development. What is even more shocking is that one area is full of historic property sites scheduled by the Planning Authority itself. A case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to Steve Borg, spokesperson for the Moviment Favur il-Harsien tal-Wied tal-Maghluq, a well-known campaigner on environmental issues and a former Greenpeace Med activist. The movement seems to be totally against what can be termed as Zone A on the map, which they claim contains some priceless examples of historical heritage that date back to the times of the Knights of St John. “We must definitely express our consternation due to the government’s unreasonable and senseless proposal to redefine the development boundaries, especially in the case of Marsascala. If we define the term, which Cabinet is using for this exercise; rationalisation, this actually binds the government to reconsider all existing properties inside boundaries within the development zones.”

He contends that the land inside Zone A and the adjacent lands are protected accorded to Chapter 435 of the Environment Protection Act, 2001, Chapter 445 of the Cultural Heritage Act 2002 and Legal Notice No. 12/2001 of the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations. These laws forbid any development in the zone, as submitted by government for inclusion within the development zone.

“We call this proposal irresponsible considering that the same footprint of land is full of historical properties. It is also pertinent to note that on 7 April 1997, the Planning Authority deemed this area as having historical value, so much so that it gave the area a Grade 2 protection through Government Notice 241/97.”

Mr Borg explained that one of the historical artefacts in the area is a WWII Command Post of particular national importance. Whereas the great majority of depth field posts were built with reinforced concrete, this one’s outer shell is constructed from limestone blocks, giving the impression that it is a farmhouse. On taking a closer look, one discovers the firing loopholes.

“This unique feature makes it an outstanding heritage site similar to other structures in Guernsey and Britain, which are given the utmost care and attention. Additionally, MEPA issued an enforcement notice; EFC 482/05, on the site due to irregularly built structures that were constructed close to the post. Unfortunately, the enforcement notice led MEPA nowhere, as the infringement remains so to this day”.

An arm’s length away there is another scheduled property, listed by MEPA as “rustic structures”. These are in actual fact called L-Imqajel, a series of pigsties that locals maintain date back to the time of the Knights of St John, and also includes a hand-cut watering hole, called a ‘misqja’. These complement It-Torri Ta’ Panellu, scheduled by MEPA as a ‘barumbara’ (pigeon loft). All these are prime examples of the vernacular architecture.

“We state that Zone A should be totally withdrawn also considering that it would overshadow another tower built by the Knights known as It-Torri tas-Sienja. The name itself indicates the presence of a watermill, that pumped upprecious water from the aquifer. This is a precious agricultural area; in fact a few days ago farmers were seen harvesting grain crops”.

Mr Borgsaid it is also pertinent to note that this area is close to the Wied tal-Maghluq tal-Bahar, a declared Natura 2000 site of international scientific importance since March 2005.

“Our environmental organisation had also mentioned the of the largest community of chaste trees (Vitex angus alba) in the Maltese Islands which lie a few metres away in Wied il-Baruni. At a MEPA meeting held on 22 September 2005, the MEPA secretariat failed to document salient points of our arguments, which made our well founded environmental considerations sound generic.”

Another area earmarked for development is the area close to Gebel Hanxul, which is the predominant point in Marsascala and lies close to the Bidni area.

“In my social and historic research of the Maltese Islands over the past 10 years, I became aware what Gebel Hanxul, being the predominant point in the Marsascala skyline, implies, as the word gebel is Maltese for mountain. This lies by the Bidni area and we are shocked that an expansion of building shall continue to deplete the natural zone. We here publicly ask to be told to whom these lands belong.”

Mr Borg disagrees with the men-in-the-street who are calling this exercise as ‘l-ahhar hatfa’ (the last grab). “I personally think that Prime Minister Gonzi is not aware of all these historic properties, and that Cabinet was fed the wrong information by whoever offered consultation on these sites.”

“Environment Minister George Pullicino states that what he terms as ‘super-environmentalists’ are not interested in social considerations. This is an unfair comment. Bear in mind that there has been a decrease in the birth rate and over 23 per cent of our housing stock is either unoccupied or in construction form. Additionally, the 2005 Government Census, which is the proper planning indicator, still remains unpublished and therefore unutilised. He should strive to have the rent law amended.”

“It is unjust to keep blaming the Malta Labour Party for the environmental woes of the 1970s and 1980s, when environmental awareness was minimal.

“It was the Nationalists who encouraged the construction of coastal hotels (the Hilton, Sheraton and on Comino) in the 1960s, built numerous housing estates, and even had the audacity to propose a main road through the G?adira Bird Reserve. Then there was the Fomm ir-Rih case... We ask if the Faculty of Geography has been consulted in these government proposals. Southern Malta deserves serious protection and we should not continue to be taken for a ride as if we are second-class citizens. We also appeal to Heritage Malta to take note of our pleas.”

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