The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: Reversing the damage of 2006

Saturday, 23 September 2023, 10:13 Last update: about 11 months ago

In and amongst the raging debate on the country’s building furore, the one thing which invariably always gets mentioned is the decision back in 2006 to change the country’s local plans in such a manner that a tract of land across the country the size of Siggiewi went from being Outside Development Zone to being inside the development zone.

The effects weren’t immediate, but today we are seeing a spread of concrete into previously untouched land which is in part possible because that land was rendered developable by the deplorable decisions taken by the Nationalist government back in 2006.

A particularly high profile change to the local plans back in 2006 was to classify the picturesque Hondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo as an area which was no longer for afforestation, but one where tourism and marine-related developments could take place.

Lo and behold, a mega application for the construction of a destination port and 195-room hotel, 200-yacht marina and a tourist village for 300 apartments at the Bay and on the surrounding area was filed with the Planning Authority.

Some 20 years of activism against the project followed, with the culmination of the PA refusing the application in 2016, and appeals tribunals and even the court subsequently rejecting subsequent appeals against that refusal – the most recent of which coming earlier this year.

Now, the government has taken a step towards undoing the damage done by the local plan changes, as the Planning Authority has initiated the process to amend planning policies which will prohibit any form of development within Hondoq ir-Rummien, and for the site to again be listed for an afforestation project.

The decision is commendable and will bring to an end a decades-long saga to protect one of Malta’s most natural and pristine areas from the obliteration that any development would have brought.  It is also in line with the Labour Party’s electoral manifesto – so credit where it is due.

The reversal of the changes done to the local plan almost two decades ago to protect Hondoq is a step in the right direction towards reversing the damage done back in 2006.

While the Labour government has frequently used the changes made by the Nationalists when they were in power back in 2006 as a means of trying to shift the blame for the over-building that has hit the country, at the same time it has not done anything to update the local plans to reflect what the people want and what Malta’s environment needs.

Prime Minister Robert Abela himself has said in the past that reviewing the local plans is off the table because doing so would impinge on people’s property rights and cause injustices. 

The fact remains however that the government must act in order to preserve the characteristics of Maltese towns, villages and streetscapes.  Maybe that can come in the form of separate, specific planning policies which deal with things such as aesthetics, but also perhaps through changes to the local plans which back up court precedents such as the one set last March when a court revoked a planning permit for a five-storey development amidst a street made up of two-storey houses due to the impact it would have had on a uniform streetscape.

This was despite the local plan itself stipulating that a five-storey development in this particular area was allowable.  Perhaps a court decision like this can push changes to the local plan which preserves the uniform streetscapes that there are left.

It is changes like this where the Labour government needs to be bold if it is to continue to back up the environmental credentials it has gained with its handling of Hondoq. 

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