The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Planning - Sacrificing Gozo at the altar of development

Friday, 7 May 2021, 09:22 Last update: about 2 months ago

One of the many arguments made against the development of an undersea tunnel linking Malta and Gozo is that, as a result of increased accessibility, the sister island would become overdeveloped.

Many argue that the rampant over-construction taking place in Malta would extend to Gozo.

The thing is, however, that this is already happening. In fact, the overdevelopment of Gozo is something that will become a reality with or without the tunnel.

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Over the past weeks, this newsroom and others have reported on massive projects that are being proposed and approved all over the island of Calypso. Huge apartment blocks are sprouting up everywhere. Whereas rampant construction was previously limited to areas like Marsalforn and Xlendi, the uglification of Gozo is now reaching out to all four corners of the island.

One particularly controversial application proposes the construction of a massive block of 31 apartments just a stone’s throw away from the prehistoric Ġgantija temples. Almost two-thousand objections have been filed so far, including by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and the Xagħra Local Coucil. Both have warned that the proposed development does not fit in.

The cultural heritage watchdog has also warned that there may be undiscovered archaeological remains in the area, which may be related to the megalithic temples built over 5,000 years ago, and which currently enjoy a UNESCO world heritage status.

That special status could be placed in jeopardy if such a development were to take place, the Local Council has warned.

The application has been temporarily suspended but this does not mean that the project will be scrapped.

Another two highly worrying cases we have reported on are applications to build apartment blocks on agricultural land in Sannat and Xewkija.

In the case of Sannat, Moviment Graffitti has pointed out that three separate applications for the same area have been filed by the same developers, in what seems to be a bid to avoid proper scrutiny. In other words, three ‘smaller’ applications stand a better chance of being approved by the PA than one single massive project. But the end result is the same.

In Xewkija, a four-storey block of apartments has already been put up for sale despite the fact that the application is still awaiting a recommendation from the case officer. Here too, the construction will take place on a green and undeveloped area. The area in question is in the development zone, to be fair, but this is not the point.

The point is that Gozo, like Malta, is being sacrificed at the altar of development, and this is happening at a time when we are supposed to be pushing the concept of Eco-Gozo.

What happened to the idea of promoting Gozo as a tranquil and idyllic island in the Mediterranean where one can go to enjoy the beaches in summer and the countryside in winter?

What touristic value will Gozo have if every scrap of countryside left is to be turned into flats and garages?

Another pertinent question is: where is this demand for property coming from, seeing that the population has shrunk as a result of the pandemic?

Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said this week that we need a mature debate on the environment.

Yes, we do. And central to that discussion should be how to keep Gozo from turning into another Buġibba.

 

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