The Malta Independent 30 July 2021, Friday

Securing What’s left of ‘Gonna tal-Kmand’

Malta Independent Friday, 11 December 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

The first years of the British rule saw the development in many towns and villages of Malta of what were called ‘Gonna tal-Kmand’ – rather small but unique public gardens.

Over the years, unfortunately, many have been built over while others have been surrounded and submerged by development.

Mepa has recently scheduled those remaining, in a battle against time. Equally urgent is the need to ensure that their surroundings are kept under control so that the developments that are allowed do not submerge them.

The Mepa board yesterday faced two issues regarding two of these ‘Gonna tal-Kmand’, one in Qrendi and one in Lija.

In the case of the Qrendi one, the board was asked by a group of developers with nearby sites to reconsider its earlier decision to schedule the buffer zone of the garden. The developers were supported by many architects and also by Dr Joe Ellis who put up a spirited defence of their rights.

Mainly the arguments of the developers, whose sites were at the back of the garden, were that development with a semi-basement, three floors and a penthouse was allowed to take place across the street from the entrance to the garden and they saw no reason why they should not be allowed to do the same seeing that the garden actually consists of a small enclosed garden and a bigger field enclosed by a wall at the back. There is no value in preserving this field’s field of vision, they argued.

They also argued that when they bought the land, there was nothing in the local plan which limited development to just two floors. If they are not allowed to develop to three floors and a penthouse, they stand to lose money.

But the mayor of Qrendi, Karmenu Falzon, put up an equally spirited defence of the integrity of the garden. Many years ago, the local council asked to build a house for the elderly in the field at the back but this was refused. If development is allowed, even at the back, the garden will be submerged and instead of the sun, it will get only shade.

Mepa chairman Austin Walker said that if a mistake was done when the development in front was allowed, this does not mean the rest of the surroundings should be allowed to follow suit. And even if the local plan did not say anything, this did not mean that Mepa could not impose a buffer zone around the historic garden.

Nor should there be comparison with what happened in other sites, such as at Siggiewi where the context was completely different.

Uproar ensued when the chairman compared land speculation to speculating on stocks and shares with the developers shouting Mr Walker down.

At the end, the board confirmed the scheduling of the buffer zone but allowed the Directorate to work with the developers to find a solution to their issues, such as, for instance, limiting the buffer zone at the back to the width of a street.

The case was vastly different with regards to the second ‘Gnien tal-Kmand’, in Lija. This is situated in the Tal-Mirakli area and the garden itself has been taken over by the Biodiversity Centre and its laboratories at the back.

There is no issue with the owners of the land in the buffer zone but the application for reconsideration came from the Directorate itself with regards to a large packet of open space next to the buffer zone on the Lija side. The Directorate wanted more time to find the rightful owner of this land and, in case it belongs to the government, it intends to suggest that the Biodiversity Centre moves to this land and the ‘Gnien tal-Kmand’ itself is rebuilt as it was.

This particular ‘Gnien tal-Kmand’ is also important for its water reservoirs feed into San Anton Palace.

The Mepa board accepted to give more time to the Directorate to find out who was the owner of the land.

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