A part-time farmer who spent two years rehabilitating a field that was used as an illegal dumping ground has been told he has no legal claim to the land in what appears to be a failure in communication between government departments.
Raymond Aquilina happened upon a plot of land in the limits of l-Aħrax, in Mellieħa, in 2014 and sought permission from the agricultural directorate, which, at the time, had not been incorporated into a ministry, to farm the land.
After receiving the go-ahead and a significant investment in cleaning up and planting trees on the land, Aquilina was later informed by the Lands Authority that he had no legal claim to work the land and was effectively squatting.
Admitting he had not paid the ground rent on the land, Aquilina was made aware of his situation when he attempted to regularise himself and was rejected as there are other plans for the site.
He was told the land was part of a site consisting of an abandoned quarry that had been earmarked for use as an off-roading facility.
Unaware of the inner workings of inter-governmental departments, Aquilina admitted to Times of Malta that he had assumed getting permission from the agriculture department meant he had the green light to make use of the land.
“I did not expect a parade and a medal but, at the very least, at a time when we are so conscious about the environment, they would recognise that I have tried to do something positive and beneficial,” he said.
Aquilina described the land that he found in 2014 as a “mess of a dumping ground” littered with tyres, fridges and old mattresses, which cost him two years and €6,000 to clean up.
He has since planted a variety of fruit trees on the land, including grapevines, olive trees, prickly pears, fig trees and citrus trees, transforming the former dumping site into a little oasis.
“I have never had much to my name, this is my hobby and I put in sweat and tears to make it what it is now,” Aquilina said.
“Yes, it has been a lot of hard work but this garden is where my mind feels at peace.”
Meanwhile, the site has been comprised in a planning application to redevelop the disused quarry into an off-roading facility, which will include earth-moving, backfill, boundary rubble walls, chain-link fencing, two metal gates, flood-lighting, reservoirs, temporary offices, toilets and a store.
The Planning Authority’s case officer has favourably recommended the application for approval.
“Honestly, this whole experience has been very bitter,” Aquilina said.
“I feel like everything enjoyable that I touch is destined to evaporate. I hear about politicians promising to plant trees here or there and, yet, no one will stand up for my little garden.
“Is this the thanks you get for trying? I’m absolutely heartbroken.”
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