The relentless opposition to the proposed development zone extensions continued yesterday with another environmental group saying that the only perceivable objective of the plan was to give a temporary boost to the construction industry.

Nothing whatsoever indicated that the extension of the development boundaries fulfilled any social need or that it served the national interest, according to Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) which recently organised a well-attended environmental rally in Valletta.

Compensation for the few instances of true injustice made up only a fraction of the total land involved and these should be compensated financially, not used as an excuse to destroy Malta's rural heritage.

"Sacrificing yet more of our landscape for short-term gain is wrong," said a strongly worded statement by the new action group, spearheaded by Astrid Vella.

The government has embarked on the controversial proposal on the grounds that settlements will be more compact and have a more logical, well-defined boundary.

It has been claimed the extension would be as large as the village of Siggiewi but Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi says that 18 per cent of the area to benefit from the scheme is already built up. He also argues that an adequate supply of dwellings is required so that couples will be able to buy affordable homes.

The lobby group however yesterday called upon the government to acknowledge the overwhelming opposition to the proposal to the extent that not a single organisation had come out in favour.

There was no social need for more dwellings, it insisted. There were currently 23,000 vacant dwellings and there was twice as much development space as required until 2020, even without opening up new areas to development. Malta had the highest proportion of built-up land in Europe - 22 per cent of its land surface was already built up, as compared to the European average of seven per cent.

Rather than open up new land for development, grants should be made available for the restoration of existing old houses, FAA suggested.

It said that a lot of the land proposed for development included terrains which were not fully flanked by urban areas, land of ecological value, trees of protected species, areas of established or potential archaeological value as well as agricultural and garigue land.

"Malta is already plagued by over-development and the Maltese can no longer tolerate this unsustainable building activity with levels of dust and noise which would be considered unacceptably high in any other European country," FAA said.

The irrevocable loss of more countryside and increase in construction activity would also have a negative effect on tourism. Further building could only mean fewer tourists.

The extension of development boundaries would result in the sanctioning of yet more illegal structures.

Besides, the pressure group argued in a stand diametrically opposed to the Prime Minister's on Sunday, the price of property would continue to spiral in the absence of fiscal measures, such as taxation of vacant properties, aimed at discouraging speculation.

The cases related to injudicious commercial ventures had no right to be compensated by the granting of public land, which would serve as a precedent to other claims.

The "rationalisation" scheme as presented by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority would create as many anomalies as it sought to redress and would require further corrective measures in the future.

The FAA asked why some of the land of some individuals had been earmarked for development when they had made no such request.

As the government was the largest single landowner in the project, it had therefore taken on the role of a major "speculator".

The new provisions were lined up for parliamentay approval by July but did not allow for its assessment in the light of the results of the National Census to be published shortly afterwards.

The development zone proposals were drawn up hastily, with insufficient time allowed for public consultation or to study the public's objections, the pressure group said.

"We live in a democratic country and it is the duty of a democratic government to listen to the people and act according to the Constitution.

"As concerned EU citizens we have the right to be provided with a convincing explanation for a development which goes against the interest of our endangered environment, for which there is no justification and which nobody in Malta seems to want."

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