The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
View E-Paper

Gozo: ‘franka’ facades - prioritising the wrong things!

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 25 February 2024, 08:45 Last update: about 3 months ago

A circular issued by the Planning Authority (PA) states that “when assessing and determining development application in all of Gozo’s urban areas, PA requires the use of unpainted and unrendered lower globigerina limestone ‘franka ’ on the street facade.”

The PA expects to impress us Gozitans with its recent circular inspired by the Gozo Minister to use ‘franka’ for street facades. This is a half-baked policy which the PA has no sign of how it may struggle to implement it. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Wake up Gozitans and face reality! We cannot reverse time and bring back our once glorious Marsalforn and Xlendi. These succumbed to overdevelopment and the ‘franka’ faced facades are merely going to act as an illusion. 

The tragedy continues. We are losing our ODZs and then the PA approves green spaces in remote abandoned places lingering in the long shadows of the highrise concrete buildings that prohibit the sun from reaching us.

When the British were in Malta and Gozo more than half a century ago, they realised the use and uniqueness of the ‘franka’ stone. The barracks they built are all in local stone and stand to this day in their natural state. We resorted to other means which were detrimental to our surroundings. First, we used to plaster the ‘franka’ with a cement layer and then paint it with different colours.

Scores of years later, we realised that limestone was a natural stone which complemented the environment. Concrete bricks are now being used as a construction medium. Main reason was that building in ‘franka’ was labour intensive and required skilled masons. Bricks were faster and cheaper for construction. Limestone was a naturally diminishing resource, and it was in short supply. 

PA splashed an impressive photo in their press release, depicting an aesthetic square in ‘franka’ houses that still retain its past glory. This is St Francis Square in Victoria Gozo, which is opposite the Ministry of Gozo. How many squares are still like this in Gozo? PA has lost its integrity and scope. It is ignoring aesthetics for the sake of rampant development.

Look at Marsalforn and Xlendi. A shining example of an eyesore with PA’s blessing. Can this be reversed by covering it with limestone cladding? The irresponsible permits issued by PA to construct these monstrosities will remain irrespective of whatever cladding is used to cover the facades. 

Ahead of the annual 2022 budget, the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA) said the sister island’s tourism industry was at a crossroads over the scale of development that gave the lie to the lip service in national policies proclaiming Gozo as a unique destination. 

100% of the respondents to a survey carried out by the GTA in 2022 showed that Gozo was losing its charm and characteristics because of overdevelopment.

But the Gozo Minister thinks otherwise. He agrees with concerns raised by Gozitan mayors on the overdevelopment Gozo has experienced, but attributed this to the economic progress the island has experienced over the past decade. So waking up late you are justified to over-speed to your workplace.

Gozo Minister asserted the starting point in 2013 was an island with no investment, high unemployment and young people wanting to leave. 

“The Labour government invested in the island and this encouraged people to invest in their land. Today unemployment is virtually non-existent and Gozo has a working population of 17,000 with seven out of 10 employed in the private sector,” the minister said. 

He conveniently forgot to mention that Gozo is still surviving with the infrastructure his government took over from the previous administration. The Mgarr terminal, Gozo Channel fleet except ferry Nikolaus, Gozo hospital, law courts, and the tarmacked EU funded roads. But this government is doing nothing to improve this critical situation.

Now Gozo is better! Sinking deeper into over development, a public sector bursting at the seams, ODZs under threat, with catering outlets desperately seeking foreigners to run their business. 

Gozo’s descent into a hellish construction nightmare demands urgent action to “stop the rot”, a heritage NGO has pleaded in a call for authorities to adopt three simple measures to protect Gozo. 

 

Din L-art Helwa Ghawdex (DLĦGħ) proposed: 

·         A 12-month suspension of DC15 Annex 2 to all recent developments in Gozo. Annex 2 allows five-storey buildings within three-storey residential areas. This, the NGO said, creates overly dense residential areas, undermines residents’ quality of life and destroys the character of Gozo’s villages. 

·         A 12-month moratorium period on all Outside Development Zone (ODZ) applications.This would stop the “systemic misuse” of ODZ land until new guidelines that would allow for consistent planning decision-making are in place.

·         A 12-month extension of the Urban Conservation Area (UCA) boundaries by 250 metres. Extending UCA boundaries would create a buffer zone for village cores, with the 12-month period being used by planners to review neighbourhood plans and impose strict planning guidelines. 

“Without the above immediate action, Gozo, together with its economic prospects and tourism product, are doomed to fail, whereas immediate positive action will protect and preserve the island for this and future generations,” DLĦGħ said.

PA promises us revisions that come with no deadlines, and meanwhile, they continue to approve applications for controversial developments in Gozo, based on existing policies - despite Gozitan residents, NGOs, local councils and lobby groups all warning that Gozo is being irrevocably ruined by over-development.

Besides the front facade, this policy applies also to the backside of a building if this overlooks an ODZ area. 

Meanwhile, a short time after the Gozo minister’s interview with ‘Malta Today’ the PA board he had just set up was already being provoked. 

This board considered an application by the Gozo minister’s driver for a 200m garage in ODZ facing Ramla. It had all the ticks of an outright refusal, but members appointed by the Gozo minister insisted on postponing the decision to consider this matter further. There we go! If approved, all outside walls of this garage will be ‘franka’ faced as this is wholly in the ODZ.

All NGOs raised their hands and heaped praise to the minister for this policy – as a group of opportunists who were following each other in a dark tunnel and at the slight sign of a ray of light, they eagerly claimed that they are within the end of the tunnel. They embraced, all restless to take credit, hoping that their proposals were gradually being heard–while the light gained intensity. It was not the opening of the tunnel but the glaring lights of a high-speed train!

  • don't miss