A planning tribunal has shot down developers’ appeal to forge ahead with development in Ħondoq bay, closing the chapter on a 20-year saga

Gozo Prestige Hotels, the landowners of a massive tract of land in Ħondoq ir-Rummien, Qala, have long had plans to develop the 103,000 square metre site, which included a hotel, parking facilities, 25 villas, 60 apartments and 200 multi-owner properties. 

In 2016, the Planning Authority reached a unanimous decision not to grant the permit, however, shortly after developers filed an appeal, claiming that their right to a fair hearing had been breached. 

On Thursday, the Environmental and Planning Review Tribunal voted against the appeal. The decision was read out in a virtual hearing, in which the tribunal said it was rejecting the appeal and confirming the Planning Authority's decision to deny the application.

In an initial reaction, Paul Buttigieg, the mayor of Qala, who spearheaded the campaign said: "Ħondoq saved... appeal refused."

Gozo Prestige Hotels said they were treated unfairly as they were only given 15 days to prepare for the PA hearing. Despite this being above the minimum legal timeframe, lawyers for the developers argued that this was insufficient to bring forward experts who had conducted studies to support the planning application. 

The hotly contested application has been vociferously opposed by residents and NGOs, who hold the principle that the enormous stretch of arable and untouched land as well as a popular swimming destination should not be sacrificed to development. 

Speaking to Times of Malta on Saturday, Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg said he hoped that Ħondoq would be preserved for future generations. 

“Gozo needs to safeguard its natural capital and not become intensely developed and spoilt,” he said, repeating his appeal to the government to reclaim the land and turn it into a national park. 

Last year, Buttigieg wrote to MPs and insisted that the land be declared public domain by parliament to protect it from development and put an end to repeated attempts by developers to build it up. 

The Labour Party has publicly committed to protecting Ħondoq in its electoral manifesto, while in his budget speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said he is opposed to the project. 

In 2016, following a proposal by NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar a public domain act, which was intended to increase protection for sites with cultural or environmental significance, was passed through parliament, however, since its approval, it has never been used. 

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