The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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Wied Żnuber: Government planning to add 30,000sq.m. to ODZ as ‘buffer zone’

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 3 December 2023, 09:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

The process to amend the local plans regarding the Wied Żnuber area, to change a volume of land designated as being within the Hal Far Industrial Estate to an Outside Development Zone, will start in the coming days, the government told this newsroom when responding to questions.

This news follows on from a speech Prime Minister Robert Abela had made in Parliament last month, where for the first time he had mentioned the creation of an ODZ buffer zone between the valley and the Hal Far Industrial Estate.

Government sources indicated that the proposal will see 30,000 sq.m. of industrial land become designated as ODZ land. This is equivalent to the size of around four football pitches.

Wied Żnuber has been in the news as controversy erupted over plans for a model aircraft airfield to be constructed in the area, that became public before the last general election. A government statement in February 2022 had said that the agreement was “signed between Indis Malta Ltd, SportMalta, Lands Authority and the Ħal Far Model Flying Association (HFMFA), whereby the HFMFA will relocate from its current location at Ħal Far Industrial Estate to a site on the outskirts of the same estate. On this site, the development, which is to be carried out, includes minimum interventions in accordance with permits issued by the Planning Authority with full respect for the classification of part of the site as Natura 2000”.

The agreement between the government entities and the model plane enthusiasts was for 44,000 sq.m. of land (six football pitches) to be transferred to the HFMFA.

A number of NGOs and Birzebbuga residents have spoken out against the idea of the airfield in the proposed area. Among other things, the organisations argued that the project is expected to have major environmental and social impact, that the loud and incessant noise of model remote control airplanes would increase light and noise pollution in the area, that this site is next to a Natura 2000 site and that the plan would adversely affect farmers. They argued that the airstrip project is unacceptable because it will destroy virgin land, calling for the site in question to become ODZ.

Speaking in Parliament last month, the Prime Minister said that changes will be made to the local plan regarding Wied Żnuber, “where while we will ensure that the model aircraft enthusiasts’ project will take place, it will be smaller and we will ensure that the buffer zone with the valley, which today is on industrial land, will become ODZ”.

But the Prime Minister was accused by the Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa, which continues to call for the site to be turned into ODZ, of making contradictory remarks when compared to what he had told journalists in March 2022, just before the general election. In March 2022, Abela was asked to give his opinion on the Wied Żnuber airstrip. “In Wied Żnuber there will be no development, and we will continue talking with the people who are concerned with what was proposed so that we would clearly explain that development will not take place in Wied Żnuber. I believe we could have dialogued more and we will continue that dialogue process,” he had said. The Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa argued that this is the opposite of what the PM had pledged.

Asked about the group’s statement – that the Prime Minister’s recent speech is contradictory to what he had said in March 2022 – the Office of the Prime Minister said: “The discussion regarding the airstrip for model airplanes was mainly associated with land which in the local plans is earmarked as industrial. That is why the government’s promise that no development will take place in Wied Żnuber or on ODZ land has been consistent and remains.”

“However, the government will go further and as the Prime Minister promised, a process will start so that areas of land that are a buffer zone with Wied Żnuber and are currently considered industrial will be changed to ODZ. The process will be initiated in the coming days as explained by the Prime Minister in his budget speech. The process will include a consultation as per planning laws,” the response concluded.

This newsroom obtained some further information regarding the proposed buffer zone from government sources.

The sources said that through the planned changes, 30,000 sq.m. of what is now industrial land would become ODZ, and that the idea was already discussed at PA Executive Council level. This means, the sources said, that while originally 44,000 square metres was planned to be given to an airplane model association for a model plane airstrip and clubhouse to be constructed, it would now be around 70% less.



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