A gate that was installed without permission and blocked access to a grove in Ħas-Saptan, an area of significant environmental and social importance, has been removed by the Planning Authority (PA).

According to people familiar with the area, the gate appeared out of nowhere and tried to pass off a public pathway as private land. It is adjacent to a large Enemed fuel depot.

Enemed denied having anything to do with the gate.

The Lands Authority had previously said that the pathway that was blocked off “does not lead to either government-owned or registered property.”

But following a PA investigation, the Lands Authority later clarified that the land was, in fact, government-owned and leased to a third party.

Replying to questions, a spokesperson for the PA stated that “the compliance and enforcement directorate can confirm that the gate has been removed on its instructions since it was not covered by a valid development permit”.

When Times of Malta visited the site, a man who had keys that could unlock the pathway refused to explain why the gate was there and restricting a public area. He drove off after locking the gate behind him.

Ħas-Saptan is mainly popular with people hailing from Gudja and Għaxaq and is often used for outdoor activities. 

The Environment Ministry said last year that it wanted to add the area to Malta's list of Natura 2000 sites.

The site’s popularity with outdoor enthusiasts, however, had declined after Enemed had successfully applied for a permit to develop 6,600 square metres of land in 2015.

“There are no health hazards since studies were conducted and the equipment installed is in line with health and safety regulations for operation,” the spokesperson said, adding that the only restrictions enforced by the company are related to “security purposes” that concern the fenced-off stations where fuel i stored

In spite of objections that had been raised by various entities and residents, the project was, nonetheless, given the green light because an older plant in Birżebbuġa had failed to conform to EU standards and an urgent relocation was needed.

Ħas-Saptan had also hit the headlines last year due to numerous hunting illegalities reported in the media.

In September, the committee against bird slaughter described the area around the airport as “the worst killing ground” for protected birds in Europe.

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