The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija 'under threat due to wrong development policies'

Thursday, 8 June 2023, 15:54 Last update: about 2 years ago

The future of BirdLife Malta’s Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija is under threat due to wrong development policies that are changing an area of dwellings across the street from the reserve into a massive block of 7-8 storey apartments, BirdLife Malta said Thursday.

Two planning applications were approved in May after the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) did not see the need to object to this process, making it easier for the Planning Authority (PA) to give its blessing at planning board meetings.

In a media briefing in front of one of the sites that was granted a permit – situated just 20m away from the reserve’s entrance – BirdLife Malta officials today announced that they will be appealing the PA’s decisions to allow these exaggerated developments which shall impact on the reserve’s ecological status, and diminish the educational value provided to thousands of visitors yearly.

BirdLife Malta is committed to take all the necessary actions to stop this development, including referring the case to the Law Courts. Simar Nature Reserve was first designated as a nature reserve in 1991, as plans to build a theme park were diverted to give a space to nature at the interface between Pwales Valley and Xemxija Bay which would have naturally been a saline marshland. The reserve gained various designations over the years from a Site of Ecological Importance to a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, to a Natura 2000 site under the Birds and Habitats Directives in 2004.

It is one of five remaining marshland areas on the island that were repristinated as a result of BirdLife Malta’s interventions over the years. The positive approach since 1991, including the Northwest Local Plan that states that the nature reserve should be expanded, has been dwindling following the 2006 rationalization plans that allowed dwellings in the area to increase to four storeys.

In 2015, another policy has allowed the fourstorey height limitation to be translated to a set height, allowing more storeys to be crammed into such a height. When adjudicating the development application, Planning Authority officials were also surprised that ERA’s input was one oriented only to light pollution concerns from the proposed buildings, and then based their decision to permit it, on the environment’s authority discernment of the application.

The Simar area as proposed by the developers

Commenting on the decision process taken on the day, BirdLife Malta’s Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara stated: “It’s disappointing to see an environment authority being just a spectator to this rape of our natural heritage. We haven’t even seen the imposition of basic permit conditions to protect the reserve from the impacts of development. As dwelling by dwelling gives way to a large concrete block, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how this shall impact through dust, noise, and even visually, the integrity of the reserve.” Simar Nature Reserve is the only site in Malta where species like Common Little Bittern, Common Coot and Little Grebe breed or have bred. The reserve acts as an important stopover for large flocks of herons during migration.

“All this will become threatened with balconies higher than the trees such herons seek refuge in, and with an agglomeration of people crammed in an area which will bring with it, noise, light and traffic, to mention just a few of the impacts,” commented Mark Gauci, BirdLife Malta’s Head of Land Management. “Over 4,000 school children visit Simar on an annual basis, whilst an additional 3,000 visitors attend during the week and weekends all looking to escape the construction frenzy and enjoy our countryside. Their experience and the learning opportunities will now be negatively impacted with such development in close proximity.

The peaceful ambience of the nature reserve will turn into dust, loud machinery noise and more concrete”, he continued. BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana concluded: “This is a symptom of the nation’s problem and a precise reflection of the three requests made by the XEBBAJTUNA! National Protest on Saturday 27th May in Valletta. We have public authorities not working for the common good because they are not functioning in full autonomy from businesses and politicians. We have policies that were wrongly enacted and are destroying our open spaces and natural areas. Finally, we have an economic model that does not give any weighting on our natural capital and our citizens’ well-being.”

These requests and today’s press conference are supported by ENGOs Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Ramblers Association of Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Nature Trust-FEE Malta, Għawdix and Moviment Graffitti, along with the thousands of people that attended the XEBBAJTUNA! protest showing their anger. The ENGOs will be meeting the Prime Minister on the 23rd of June. In the meantime, BirdLife Malta will be challenging these development permits at the Environment & Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) and also in Court. 

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