The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

Baħrija threatened by barbaric decisions

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 08:23 Last update: about 3 months ago

During times when everything seems up for grabs, nothing should come as a surprise. A villa with an infinity pool elevated on stilts overlooking Baħrija’s pristine lush landscape, for instance, shouldn’t surprise, but it still, rightly, angers.

On approaching this remote site along a barely formalized rubble country lane, what stands out is the ecological richness of this natural landscape stretching over Baħrija’s untouched terrain, with long distance views of Sannat’s imposing cliffs over a clear blue sea as its backdrop.

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This land is in fact protected (at least on paper) as an Area of High Landscape Value.

The site itself consists of a small cluster of rooms at the fringes of a 1,400square meter plot of uncultivated land along a sloping valley. These existing structures (which form the supposed ‘justification’ for this application) are in fact barely visible as they lie just below street level. The same cannot be said for the proposed villa which would replace them.

The replacement villa would have a floor area of 165square meters over 2 storeys. This entirely new building will now be visible from street level, tarnishing the raw nature of this site.

The site, and its surrounding wider context, is defined by a vast irregular topography covered in a multitude of varying flora and fauna, attesting to the rich ecological value of the area. It is in fact also designated as an Area of Ecological Importance. Furthermore, the site is listed as a Special Area of Conservation forming part of Malta’s Natura 2000network, rendering it not only of local ecological value, but also of importance on an international level.

Throughout the processing of the application, the applicant submitted visuals supposedly meant to illustrate the proposed villa as it would appear on site once built. These visuals are by no means representative of the existing context nor do they depict the resultant impact of the development, as they completely fail to illustrate the site’s rich biodiversity, a vast extent of which will be obliterated through the project.

For the construction of this villa, swimming pool and external terracing to be possible, existing flora and fauna adorning this site would have to be cleared. Parts of its natural slope will be lost as rock is cut, excavated and levelled to create flat ground. Its present geomorphological formation, now defined by an uneven rock surface, will be replaced by a bland lifeless terrain with entire micro ecosystems having been expunged in the process.  Further ground will be disturbed and permanently marred as paths are widened and cleared to make way for the heavy machinery needed to build this monstrosity. The ecological as well as the visual impact will be devastating.

The site also lies within the il-Qlejgħa Area of Archaeological Importance which is hardly surprising when one notes that this property is completely encircled by archaeological remains, with groups of cart ruts to the North, East, and South-East, and the remains of Bronze Age Villages to the North-West, West and South-West. The concentration of such rich archaeological findings truly makes the site one of immeasurable heritage value. To endanger these sites that are thousands of years old and compromise the further understanding and knowledge yet to be gained from them, should be deemed inconceivable.

The Planning Directorate had in fact recommended the application for refusal. The refusal was based on a number of concerns related to the proposal’s detrimental impact on heritage and the environment, all of which were put forward by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Environment and Resources Authority, both of whom strongly objected to the application.

Despite this, the Planning Commission (which is ultimately the deciding body) ignored the consulting experts and went on to overturn the recommendations, finally granting the permit for this obscenity in mid-December 2019, during the pre-Christmas shutdown stint.

The fight for the protection and preservation of this site is not over. Din l-Art Ħelwa has appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of this case to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. Every effort must be made to stop the irreversible harm enabled through the Planning Commission’s callous decision to ensure that this site of immeasurable environmental and heritage value is protected against the insatiate greed that is crippling our island.

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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