Updated 5.30pm: Adds arguments made during board meeting
An application for the development of an old people's home in a disused quarry in Wied Għomor, between Swieqi and San Gwann, has been overwhelmingly rejected.
The board members of the Planning Authority this afternoon rejected the application 14-0.
The board said the proposed development within the valley area breaches a number of thematic objectives set out in the approved Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development.
It overturned the Planning Directorate recommendation to the project as there was no sufficient justification for the development project to be granted.
Wied Għomor, which borders San Gwann, St Julian's and Swieqi, is characterised by an intricate system of terracing, consisting mainly of fields on relatively steep valley flanks.
Residents as well as local councils in the area had campaigned to have the valley protected, insisting that this project would not have consisted of rehabilitation of the quarry, but more construction.
Nature Trust had said that the valley system had been scheduled by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority as an Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance.
ARGUMENTS DURING BOARD MEETING
Early in today’s sitting, the developer insisted that he owns all the site and could substantiate his claims with notarial deeds. The only restriction is a public right of way through the site.
But the PA chairman and the San Ġwann local council representative claimed that Land Registry documentation confirmed that 3,000 square metres of the site are publicly owned.
Architect Stephen Farrugia, on behalf of the developer, explained that the project would follow the original contours of the site, thus minimising its environmental impact while rehabilitating the site.
The meeting was told that the Malta Resources Authority, the Heritage Protection Unit, the Environment Protection Department and the Natural Park Development Management Committee disagreed with the proposal during the processing of the application.
The Light Pollution Awareness Group insisted that one should look at the valley as a whole rather than just the quarry and consider the impact of the project in that way. It was pointed out that this was the only fresh air ‘lung’ in the densely populated area of Swieqi, San Gwann and St Julian’s.
A number of nearby residents and land owners said they would seek development permits in adjacent land if this permit was issued.
The board was presented with a petition signed by 4,500 neighbours urging the authority to reject the development and conserve the valley.
Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat said that Swieqi residents were "choking" because of the intense development going on in the area. The infrastructure could not handle this development. Suffice to say that the only exit through Swieqi was a narrow tunnel that had to be shared by cars and pedestrians.
Wied Mejxu has been destroyed: don’t destroy this last valley- Swieqi Mayor
“Wied Mejxu has been destroyed: don't destroy this last valley,” he pleaded.
Joanne Spiteri Staines on behalf of Din L-Art Helwa explained how the the local plan did not allow for such a development. Should the application be approved, the Planning Authority would be setting two dangerous precedents, namely an incorrect manner how to rehabilitate quarries and opening the possibility of further development at Wied Ghomor, she warned.
FAA expressed shock that the Case Officer report recommended approval of this application. The report had referred to quarry regulations allowing such a development, but it failed to quote environmental and ecological regulations which give extra protection to this valley as an Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance. It said it could not understand how the Case Officer could recommend approval of the permit since the Resources Authority refused it in view of the fact that the permeable Coralline limestone of this valley feeds the nearby aquifer.
In a statement the Nationalist Party welcomed the PA decision and called on the government to rehabilitate the area for the benefit of the people.
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