Plans for the creation of new salt pans at Xwejni Bay, on the north-eastern coast of Gozo, have been dropped following strong objections from the diving community and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The Planning Authority has informed objectors that the applicant, Tereża Refalo, withdrew the application.

The proposal was to create new salt pans, construct a storeroom and cut into the rock to form an open reservoir and a store on a ‘vacant plot’ outside the development zone on the coastal area of Il-Ponta ta’ Reqqa, limits of Żebbuġ.

Losing the north of Gozo dive sites is comparable to [people] no longer having access to the Blue Lagoon on Comino- Professional Diving Schools Association

The site is within a Level 2 area of ecological importance. It also lies within an area of high landscape value and enjoys protection. A similar application filed in 2021 was refused.

The ERA had said in its objection that any human intervention there, given its sensitivity, was “not desirable”.

With a considerable number of salt pans in the area, there was no justification for more development on the site, which would create “irreversible damage and adverse impacts to the coast”.

Plans run counter to planning policies

The ERA argued that the proposal ran counter to several planning policies, including those designed to protect the landscape of coastal areas, safeguard geology and geomorphology and prevent coastal erosion.

Furthermore, the site was of “considerable scenic value” and the development application was objectionable from an environmental point of view.

Several NGOs, including the Archaeological Society Malta, Nature Trust Malta, Moviment Graffitti and Din l-Art Ħelwa, also objected to the proposed development.

The diving community had further reasons to object. Rallying behind the Professional Diving Schools Association, which represents 53 dive centres, they argued the project was on the main access route to the entry point for two famed dive locations renowned for their unique underwater topography – Għar il-Qamħ and Cathedral cave.

The dive centres said they had restricted access to the site, making it very difficult for them to transport their heavy equipment as close to the foreshore as possible and more salt pans would only aggravate this situation.

The centres are also legally obliged to keep emergency oxygen therapy units within close range in case of an emergency.

“Our industry cannot afford to lose two main shore dive sites in Gozo, especially such important ones as these.”

They said the Malta Tourism Authority and the dive centres spent a lot of money on advertising ‘The Gozo Diving Product’ overseas.

“Losing the north of Gozo dive sites is comparable to [people] no longer having access to the Blue Lagoon on Comino,” the association wrote.

Following the heavy objections to the proposal, the applicant’s architect, Saviour Micallef, wrote to the Planning Authority asking for the screening process to be suspended before withdrawing the application altogether.

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