Updated Sunday 8.35am with government statement below.
A group of Ħal Far farmers have voiced concern about plans to turn a stretch of land off Wied Żnuber, close to a Natura 2000 site, into an airstrip for model aircraft.
The area, which includes swaths of garigue and rural land, is situated between a strip of factories and cliffs home to colonies of shearwaters and seagulls, Times of Malta has been told.
Two men who till land on the site of the planned project said they were informed they had to vacate the area years ago, but recently INDIS (former Malta Industrial Parks) officials turned up accompanied by representatives of an airplane model association.
A 2019 court notice and addressed to the ‘Occupier’, says the site is being unlawfully occupied. The area is marked as ‘industrial’ in the South Malta Local Plan and hosts the scheduled Wied Żnuber Dolmen.
It is right next to a Natura 2000 site that falls under the protection of the EU’s birds and habitats directives. The former places emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, while the habitats directive ensures the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species.
“They told us they will pave over this whole area – where wild rabbits, shrews, weasels, hedgehogs and the Merill bird nest and hunt – and cover garigue, bushes and plants to build an airstrip for remote-controlled airplanes,” claimed one man, who tills fields right next to the site.
“I was told that part of my fields and a water reservoir will also be paved over,” an 80-year-old farmer said. The man, who also tends to a vineyard, had moved to Ħal Far when his family of farmers was kicked out of their Għargħur land to make space for a broadcasting antenna.
“We’re going to lose a lot of flora and fauna, even if the model airstrip project is reversible,” he warned.
Another farmer who tills fields that will be impacted by the airstrip project told Times of Malta that although state authorities had not accepted rent money for some years, the farmers had been told they could continue tilling the land. “We’ve now been told we have a month to leave as the area is being turned into an airstrip for remote-controlled planes,” he said.
Those who spoke to Times of Malta, including people who till land adjacent to the planned project, expressed concern that the noise, exhaust pollution and increase in number of people on site would also disturb pollinators and bird colonies in the area.
“And we are also very worried for our security. I’ll be tilling land right next to the airstrip… what if, God forbids a model aircraft falls on us,” he asked.
A spokesperson for the Ħal Far Model Flying Association told Times of Malta that the airstrip will only be built on disturbed land which will be levelled out. No garigue or rural land will be touched, and three impacted farmers have been offered an alternative site to till.
A planned clubhouse will be built adjacent to the factories and the remaining areas will be cleared of debris dumped there over the years.
The dolmen will also remain untouched, he assured.
Questions sent last week to the Economy Ministry and the Environmental and Resources Authority were not answered.
But on Sunday morning, the Economy Ministry and the Ministry for Education and Sport said the Ħal Far Model Flying Association was being given an alternative site at Hal Far to allow the building of the car-racing track.
They said that the development 'includes minimum interventions in accordance with permits issued by the Planning Authority with full respect for the classification of part of the site as Natura 2000'.
“The relocation stems from the fact that the existing Ħal Far Model Flying Association site is in the vicinity of several other sites which are being developed for industry, and would be suitable for similar industrial purposes, apart from the race-track itself”, Minister Silvio Schembri said.
The government agency INDIS Malta will provide technical support for the relocation project to ensure that the alternative site is free and unencumbered. It will also provide €350,000 over a period of one year to cover the costs of the relocation.