The Malta Independent 20 June 2021, Sunday

FAA says Villa Rosa mega-development endangering underlying Ħarq Ħammiem Cave

Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 12:16 Last update: about 4 years ago

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar today expressed its grave concern that this Thursday the Planning Authority Board is to decide on an application, recommended for approval, that could lead to the irreparable damage of the supposedly protected Ghar Harq Hammiem.

Located between Villa Rosa and ITS in St George’s Bay, Għar Ħarq Ħammiem, is Malta’s largest underground cave presently believed to be roughly the size of the Mosta dome. The cave was formed during the last ice age and is scheduled as an Area of Ecological Importance, Site of Scientific Importance and a Special Area of conservation through GN 112/2007 and GN370/2008. It is home to two endemic aquatic species not found anywhere else.

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Even more worrying are the results of the more recent of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the nearby ITS. A 2015 geological survey by geologist Peter Gatt found indications that the cave complex may extend over a larger area than currently thought, therefore the foundations may cause more widespread damage than the developers have represented. It was also noted that during the day the water level changes by 20 cm. The study concluded that the cave is linked directly to the sea and these changes are caused by changes in sea currents entering St George’s Bay, FAA said in a statement.

The conclusion of the study is as follows: “Borg et al note that [according to] their survey and previous studies, Għar Ħarq Ħammiem should be considered as unexplored, since much about this feature has yet to be discovered. The features that greatly merit further study include additional tunnels and chambers that may form part of the cave system, water quality aspects of the lower chamber, the aquatic biota, and the terrestrial biota. The very preliminary surveys of aquatic biota undertaken during the two studies have revealed the presence of rare and interesting forms; more extensive investigations, especially of the aquatic habitats are expected to yield more such results.”

The project forms part of the enormous redevelopment to take place at Villa Rosa (PA/02478/16) that will also include the demolition of the two storey Dolphin and Moynihan Houses. The destruction of these properties from the 1860s, found just above the underground cave complex is a condemnable act against the protection of our heritage in itself. The application  also includes a request for an additional block encroaching on the rocky foreshore at Cresta Quay,with the project effectively enclosing the St Georges Bay from all fronts.

FAA asks if one would demolish heritage buildings and continue to excavate foundations, endangering the Hypogeum or Għar Dalam? This is exactly what is being recommended for approval and to be decided by the PA board this Thursday. 

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