The future of Wied Għomor will be determined this week when a planning tribunal decides whether to reject an application for a proposed old people’s home there or “open the floodgates” to development in what is left of this green and peaceful valley.
The valley is a green lung which stretches from St Julian’s to San Ġwann through Swieqi and the project is for a 133-room residence to be sited in a quarry, bang in the middle of it.
Residents fear approval will create a precedent and, with several other development applications in the pipeline, allow the valley to be transformed into yet another urban zone.
The fate of the application is in the hands of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, which will meet on Thursday, as residents, the councils of the three localities and a number of NGOs including Din l-Art Ħelwa and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar come together to oppose the project.
Amid a public outcry, the application was unanimously rejected by the Planning Authority in May 2016 but the applicant filed an appeal, to be heard by the tribunal.
The proposal is for two floors above ground and another two underground. The residence would also include a gym, restaurant, hall and parking area, and it would be reached by a new road that would have to cut through the valley from San Ġwann into Victoria Gardens.
We already have absolutely no open spaces left in the town after years of overdevelopment
“We already have absolutely no open spaces left in the town after years of overdevelopment,” Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat told The Sunday Times of Malta when contacted yesterday.
“We have already lost a valley on the Madliena side and we cannot afford to lose any more. Wied Għomor is the last lung we have and we will do everything in our power to protect the little we’ve got left.
“This application will definitely open the floodgates and, if approved, other developments will follow.
“I am sure that this home for the elderly will have other amenities to make it feasible, so we’re going to have all this increased traffic passing through Victoria Gardens and robbing residents there of the tranquillity they currently enjoy,” Mr Muscat added.
He said that when the application was discussed in 2016, the planning board rejected it outright, by 14 votes to nil, “which in itself is a strong statement”.
St Julian’s deputy mayor Albert Buttigieg appealed for Wied Għomor to be spared because “even our pavements and our sea have been taken away from us”.
Residents who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity said the area should remain protected as it was home to many species, plants, insects and colonies of bees.
“It is an area of extreme ecological importance so we need it protected,” one said.
Residents also argue that retirement homes ought to be situated in an urban area if active ageing is still being promoted.
One of the eNGOs opposing the development is Wirt San Ġwann which in a statement called on the review tribunal to throw out the application.
“Wirt San Ġwann, together with thousands of concerned citizens, call on the members of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal to uphold not only the Planning Authority’s original decision but also responsibility and respect for the quality of life of current and future generations.”