Controversial plans for a retirement home in Wied Għomor have been blocked for a third time when a court on Thursday refused another appeal by the developer.

Plans for a 133-home residence and other facilities in a disused quarry between Swieqi and San Ġwann, which objectors argue will spell the ruin of the protected valley, were first unanimously rejected by the Planning Authority board in May 2016.

That rejection was then confirmed by the planning appeals tribunal last March, prompting developer Joseph Galea to file a request before the Court of Appeal for the tribunal’s decision to be revoked.

The court rejected that appeal on Thursday, confirming the tribunal’s decision and again ruling that the project should not go ahead. The court decision follows years of vehement opposition from residents, environmental groups and local councils, all insisting the valley should be spared from development.

Years of vehement opposition from residents

In its ruling, the court dismissed as unfounded the developer’s argument that the right to build a retirement home had already been conferred by a prior permit in 2000, which featured a rehabilitation plan for the quarry and an approval in principle for part of the site to be used a retirement home.

The court backed up the tribunal’s conclusion that the permit meant only that such a proposal would be considered if it were in line with all relevant policies and was not an automatic right for the project to go ahead.

The court also described as unfounded the developer’s claim that the tribunal had been wrong to conclude that the local plan excluded the development of a retirement home on the site.

Together with its counterparts in St Julian’s and San Ġwann, the Swieqi council had warned that the proposal would continue to eat up the last patches of open space in the town and its surroundings. About 4,500 residents signed a petition against the project.

The developers, meanwhile, denied that the project would have negative environmental impacts, highlighting the small built-up footprint and the overall rehabilitation of the quarry.

The local councils say the valley, a scheduled area of ecological and scientific importance and currently being considered for public domain status, has been subjected to an unprecedented barrage of development applications in recent years.

Environmental groups have also cautioned against a growing trend for retirement homes being proposed outside development zones, pointing to similar projects mooted close to the Ta’ Pinu shrine in Gozo and at Buskett valley.


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