The Planning Authority and Environment Ministry are to meet disgruntled Gozo mayors on home ground about their concerns over the island’s “ruin”, after all 14 joined forces four months ago to urge effective action against overdevelopment.
The request to meet, made back in October, had fallen on deaf ears, the Gozo Regional Council protested to Times of Malta this week, saying it had been “completely ignored”. The PA says that mayors had never requested a meeting.
PA executive chairperson Martin Saliba has now taken up the invitation, following what the authority said was a formal request made on Wednesday to which he “immediately responded positively”.
Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia will also attend the imminent meeting scheduled to be held in Gozo.
In a rare instance of unity, mayors from both political parties had cautioned against the irresponsible and incessant development that was destroying the island “as we speak”.
Among the issues that are likely to be raised at the long-awaited meeting is for mayors to have a more effective say on permit approval and on drafting policies that reflect the unique realities of Gozo’s village cores, towns centres, quality and way of life.
The Gozo Regional Council, which gathers the mayors of each locality, is also proposing they should have more power, particularly on major projects.
“Local plans should be approved at local level – as is the case even in Third World countries,” the regional council’s president, Samuel Azzopardi, had said.
As things stood, however, they sat on the PA board – “isolated and alone” – only to be used to validate the process.
Even seasoned politicians hesitated to criticise the developers and contractors they knew, Azzopardi had said as he slammed the PA for trying to “drown out” its voice.
Meanwhile, the mayors have found the support of both the Gozo Business Chamber and Gozitan students, who shared their preoccupation about the unsustainable development on the island.
The rate of development, particularly of large-scale projects, was ruining the village cores and urban fabric, the chamber said, adding that it did not take into consideration the needs and concerns of its local communities and its impact on them.
While it supported development, it insisted that this should be respectful of Gozo’s urban texture and traditional character.
The number of permits being approved will forever change the landscape
Acknowledging the importance of the construction industry for the economy, the chamber said new economic niches could be created through a sustainable model of development, such as the renovation of old buildings.
It has already made proposals to the government to this end.
The Gozo University Group (GUG), which represents all Gozitan students, expressed its disapproval of the PA’s refusal to meet the mayors about the “ongoing struggle of overdevelopment”.
It said it felt “deeply discouraged by this unacceptable behaviour from those who are in a position to make a difference”, adding that the “future of Gozo seemed bleak” in view of this.
Highlighting the “unprecedented stance” of the Gozitan mayors, the students warned they did not want their island to be deprived of its natural beauty by the excessive greed of a handful of powerful people.
GUG also accused the PA of rarely refusing to grant building permits.
“The number of permits being approved will forever change the landscape, ruining it to the detriment of future generations,” it said.
The Gozo and Comino Local Plan policy document was being “blatantly disregarded” and the island’s natural and cultural heritage was not being safeguarded.
On the contrary, the natural landscape was being developed uncontrollably, historic sights damaged to accommodate developers, traditional townhouses replaced by concrete blocks and ‘master plans’ were ruining ecological areas and historical centres.
The students called on politicians not to turn a blind eye to all these issues – “as seems to be the case”.
They also encouraged other Gozitan organisations to voice their concerns with the relevant authorities “before Gozo’s charm is lost”.
The GUG executive pledged its continued promotion of a “sustainable future for the island we call home since it is, indeed, at risk of being ruined forever”.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us