Gozo has long been considered a tranquil island filled with natural beauty and serenity which provides a break from the fast and busy everyday life in Malta. Tourists from all over the world flock to the jewel in the middle of the Mediterranean for a holiday consisting of a mixture of cultural, geographical and gastronomical experiences.
Until March 2017, it was unthinkable to visit Gozo and not gaze upon the natural wonder of the Azure Window. The disappointment following its collapse gave us a taste of what we were to experience in the years to come, only that currently, we are not losing our natural heritage via ‘acts of God’ but through a combination of local contractors’ greed and selfishness and the incompetence of the Planning Authority.
I must say that unfortunately, I was not at all surprised – but still disappointed – when around a fortnight ago it emerged that since 2017, 666 permits to develop ODZ areas in Gozo alone were issued by the PA.
While scrolling through Facebook, several photos of scandalous buildings which definitely do not conform to Gozitan architecture caught my eye.
At first, I wondered whether the PA could have approved such plans…. but then I realised how foolish that thought was.
A reasonable man would think it obvious that designs must conform to the character of the island, especially if that place is a tourist hub due to its unique appeal. However, for some reason, decision makers deem it possible that plans given the go-ahead in St Julian’s or Sliema should automatically be allowed to proceed in Gozo.
For such examples, one need only look at how the once picturesque fisherman villages of Xlendi and Marsalforn have been savagely developed to house blocks of concrete and restaurant tents, or how developing a town house into a boutique hotel in the heart of Victoria resulted in apertures within the Citadel walls or how the number of apartments in Xagħra are increasing.
It is specifically for this reason that serious consideration must be given to the possibility of enacting a new body: a Gozo PA.
Naturally, this would not be easy. For starters, I very much doubt that the PA would be happy to relinquish its powers over a whole island which is still ripe for development.
Since 2017, 666 permits to develop ODZ areas in Gozo alone were issued by the Planning Authority
Secondly, with Gozo being a small island where nearly everyone knows each other and thus the notion of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ would be much easier to fulfil, the million-dollar question as to how to avoid corruption would arise.
Perhaps one way to diminish it would be by ensuring that no board member on the Gozo PA can hold office for more than two or three years and that all board members must be Gozo residents.
Another option would be to include members of local councils when taking decisions on permits which affect their locality and allow them to vote on such decisions. After all, one would think that a councillor elected from that same locality would not dare go against the well-being of his village.
Furthermore, the opinion of cultural and environmental bodies ought to be given considerable acknowledgement, and these bodies be given the possibility to vote.
The new authority would need to adopt building policies which would comply with the Gozitan character.
Traditional town houses ought to be restored not destroyed.
Certain high-rise projects definitely do not belong in Gozo. People should be encouraged to build traditionally, such as using the Maltese wooden balcony and Maltese limestone.
A balance must be sought between issuing permits for restaurant tables and chairs in village squares and seaside promenades while leaving room for pedestrians to enjoy a stroll and the scenery around them.
Certain rural areas, such as Dwejra, San Raflu and San Blas just to name a few, must be left untouched.
Should a Gozo PA be set up, its scope ought to be that of safeguarding the Gozitan character, architecture and environment – basically, perform contrary as to how the PA is currently acting.
Tourists come over to Gozo to experience a different ambience and not have more of the same built-up, busy life.
Locals are fed-up of being robbed by contractors whose only thoughts are to fill their pockets with no regard given to the environment around them. A Gozo PA might put a stop to such scandals if it works competently and within its parameters.
Furthermore, it might reduce concerns that Gozo is to become an extension of Malta if the tunnel between the islands is indeed built.
However, for this to happen, it would need to be firm, unbiased and truly have the best interest of the Gozitan character at heart.
Mark Farrugia, Law student
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