The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), as well as a number of NGOs, have expressed concerns about a new planning application seeking to reinstate structures built before 1978 for agricultural use.
The application, PA/03386/22, by Wesley Davies seeks to reinstate the roof of a structure that the application claims was built before 1978, as well as sanction an additional pre-1994 structure on the site to use for beekeeping purposes.
It also seeks to build gates and restore existing rubble walls around the property.
The site takes up a total of 7,250 square metres and is located in Wied Żembaq, Birżebbuġa, an area outside the development zone.
The mostly rocky and rural terrain is listed as a protected tree area, with the bed of the valley homing a very old copse of wild pear trees and a number of mature carob trees.
However, ERA, which has objected to the application, said that aerial photos of the site from 1978 do not indicate that any structures were present, except for some ruins.
“These should not be considered as valid commitments to establish built structures on site,” they said.
Furthermore, no valid planning permission could be found for additional structures on the northern part of the site.
While it did not object to the appropriate restoration of rubble walls, ERA added that the walls indicated in drawings do not appear to be present nor pre-existing.
“The introduction of new walls, especially within this site context, and an increase in rubble wall height is of concern from an environmental point of view.
“Furthermore, plans indicate walls are being proposed across the watercourse. Noting the sensitivity of the site, it is not clear how the works will be carried out without damaging the current existing mature trees and safeguarding the site characteristics,” it said.
In comments by the Agricultural Advisory Committee, it also results that neither the applicant nor the site are registered with the agriculture directorate.
According to policy, they said, this means that the applicant does not qualify for a beekeeping room, as he is not registered with the VRD and the committee could not confirm that he is an active farmer, as no proof of arable farming was included in the application.
Alarm over the proposed development was also raised by NGOs who said that the application is a threat to the ecological, archaeological and rural environment in Wied Żembaq.
The Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa said that the proposed reconstruction of a store, less than 50 metres away from the Grade 1 scheduled Casa Ippollito within a tree-protected area “goes against the integrity of the valley environment”.
“The present structure is not visible in the 1978 aerial shots where only ruins of a previous rural dwelling can be noted,” it said.
“The proposed store does not in any way provide proof of arable farming as the site consists only of the ecologically sensitive valley bed. Hence the use of a store is purely ineligible and should be refused.”
It also highlighted how the insertion of new rubble walls would negatively
impact the natural watercourse of the valley bed, causing major effects on the ecologically sensitive landscape.
“The long-standing footpath passage that is clearly documented on the PA’s records, connecting the historic 1664 Casa Ippollito site with the rural road that leads to the bridge must not be interrupted and free access to the public must remain without any form of obstacle,” Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa added.
“No development that in any way can hinder the existing environment of this ecological and archaeological valley must be permitted.”
Objections to the application were also submitted by the Ramblers’ Association of Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa and Nature Trust Malta.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us