Angry residents of the tiny village of Baħrija are appealing to the planning authority to reject a proposed development, following promises that the area would remain a public open space.

A large area in front of the Baħrija church has been earmarked for a three-floor residential development, although the application has still to be approved.

But the proposal has irked the residents, who have signed a petition not to build up the area. Some 100 signatures have already been collected.

"I have been living here for 18 years with the understanding that this area would be transformed into a garden," one resident said.

Others, who gathered in front of the church yesterday, agreed. One even said that the contract for his home includes a clause stating that the area should remain a public open area.

Another said that, some five years ago, residents had agreed to plant a tree for every child born in Baħrija. The trees have, however, been removed, the residents said.

The North West Local Plan published in June 2001 earmarked the area as a public open space. However, this was turned into a residential development area in the controversial 2006 local plan changes, something which the residents insisted they were not informed about, let alone consulted on.

The residents said some years ago that the local council had agreed to transform the area into a playing field but this never happened since the land was privately owned. Attempts to contact the Rabat mayor were in vain.

The petition has received the backing of Nationalist MEP candidate Alan Deidun, who believes that the area should remain undeveloped. He even insisted that an autonomous board should be set up to grant funds to be used for legal and technical purposes by residents with a genuine objection to developments.

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