Five organisations are appealing the environment watchdog's approval of a village, restaurant and retail outlet on Comino which they say will see the uprooting of 380 protected trees and the denaturation of the site.

BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffitti, and Nature Trust said on Friday they firmly opposed the "urbanisation of Comino", slamming the "superficial assessment of the private project on a prized nature reserve in favour of the commercial interests of a few catering for the wealthy".

The first appeal hearing will be on September 15.

"We cannot understand how Environment and Resources Authority went ahead and recommended this project when it breaches every environmental and planning policy in the book, ranging from the EU's Habitats Directive to the Local Plan.

"Instead of safeguarding biodiversity and the delicate ecological balance of this Natura 2000 site, ERA has approved the extensive urbanisation of the island, the uprooting of 380 protected trees and the denaturation of the site."

This, they added, after ERA "sat on its hands" for years and failed to publish a study about the carrying capacity of Comino.

"We have filed an appeal before the Environment Planning Review Tribunal and will demand the safeguarding of every inch of Comino."

The development proposal, lodged by a subsidiary of the Hili Group, would see the replacement of the nine derelict bungalows currently at Santa Marija Bay with a village of 19 individually owned villas, together with a restaurant and convenience store.

This would destroy a significant area of garigue and disrupt the environmental integrity of the bay, the organisations are claiming.

The proposal is in the planning application process and will be brought in front of the PA board after a representation period where the public can send in their objections.

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