The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

Forget Fomm ir-Riħ

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 14 January 2020, 08:47 Last update: about 5 days ago

The desire of some to exploit every corner of the island seems to have no bounds. It definitely felt this way when news broke of a proposed development for ‘agri-tourism accommodation’ in the remote hamlet of Fomm ir-Riħ in Mġarr.

The hamlet is accessed through a narrow country lane, at points barely 3m wide and flanked on each side by aged dry-stone rubble walls. Just a few hundred meters beyond the hamlet, the road ends at the cliff edge that towers over the scenic bay of Fomm ir-Riħ.

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The proposed development actually covers the entire hamlet save for a single corner dwelling. It is described by the applicant as one pertaining to the consolidation and restoration of the ‘existing pre-1968/1978 structures’ which would include ‘the demolition of modern accretions’, as well as the construction ‘of new single-storey structures’ and a swimming pool.

Closer analysis of the application would lead one to consider the description to be somewhat inaccurate.

Firstly, a number of the buildings being demolished are not simply ‘modern accretions’ as described by the applicant, but vernacular structures, that are possibly among the oldest in this hamlet, dating back to its origins.

It is only by visiting the site that one can deduce this, since the information available online, submitted by the applicant, fails to provide enough photographic evidence concerning the cluster of structures towards the Northern and Eastern extent of the site which are all being proposed for demolition.

The extent of new construction is also far more invasive than one might imagine when reading the project description.

The project would result in no less than 11 completely new structures, to provide 13 ‘suites’ for guests. These individual structures would be scattered along the Northern and Western extent of the site, which of course provide the best views of this impressive landscape. Several of these new buildings would also take the place of what is today fertile agricultural land.

Only 3 suites will be incorporated in the retained restored buildings. The remaining existing structures would serve as a ‘reception’, ‘luggage room’, ‘dining and b’fast area’, ‘kitchen’ and ‘gallery space’.

Agri-tourism is intended to compliment an existing active farming enterprise, providing established farmers an opportunity to diversify their income by hosting guests at their farm who will in turn be introduced to activities related to the agricultural industry.

Placing guest ‘suites’ in a lush landscape surrounded by tilled fields does not render an enterprise as ‘agri-tourism’.

It is evident that through this proposal the entire rural hamlet of Fomm ir-Riħ, today made-up of barely 6 residential dwellings, will be converted into a tourist complex, potentially catering for 50 guests at a time.

This proposal will in no way serve to strengthen the agricultural industry but will contrarily harm it. If realised, it would lead to a direct reduction in the amount of fertile land available for farming and simultaneously render the available land surrounded by similar hamlets impossible to purchase for genuine farming activity since the cost of such land will keep soaring as other land owners, quite logically, assume that their land can also be developed in the same lucrative way.

As policies stand today, this application should be refused as it fails to comply with almost all the mandatory criteria, and introducing some improvised farming activity to somehow justify this tourist village, would not render the proposal anymore plausible.

Through this project, the authenticity of this hamlet will be wiped out and replaced with unprecedented commercial activity in one of the most remote and scenic locations in Malta. It will harm both the agricultural industry and the integrity of this stunning natural landscape. Agri-tourism should not be exploited in this way.

If you wish to formally object to this application you may do so by sending an email to the Planning Authority at [email protected] citing the application number (PA/09858/19).

Tara Cassar is an architect focusing on planning policies and environmental issues related to land-use, active with a number of local eNGOs.

[email protected]

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