Sunday, 2 March 2008

Ramblers Association protests situation at Fomm ir-Rih

From the Malta Independent on Sunday

In a letter written to MEPA chairman Andrew Calleja, Alex Vella, secretary of the Ramblers Association of Malta, writing on behalf of the Ramblers Association of Malta, protested at the attitude MEPA is taking in respect of the situation at Fomm ir-Rih, now that Joe Gasan is the new owner of Villa Delphino, the villa on top.

It is hard to believe, Mr Vella wrote, that MEPA is unaware of the irreversible damage being done to this site that has Natura 2000 status. A MEPA Board Decision taken as far back as 1999 is being reversed and an Enforcement Order on new illegal development, instead of being ordered to be reversed as recently proposed by Minister Pullicino (his aerial photos scheme), is on the way to being sanctioned.

The full story starts with the military road, which up to some years back was public property and gave access to the beach and the foreshore. It was closed illegally when a simple barrier that stopped wheeled traffic but allowed access on foot to the beach, was replaced by a metal door that barred all but the former owners of the villa who installed the metal door and built the adjacent high wall. Public access and constitutional right of way to the foreshore was thus denied, and public property misappropriated. All was done without the relevant permit. For some time now various ministers have promised RAM that the situation will be remedied.

To rub salt into the wound, Mr Vella added, Mr Gasan has extended the military road in various directions in an area of exceptional beauty. Pristine natural habitats, scheduled under various denominations of conservation, seem to mean absolutely nothing to MEPA. The destruction becomes more serious when considering the fact that these roads were not necessary and meant only to accommodate motorised sport and leisure of the owners of the villa (not necessarily the owners of the land and, certainly, not of the old road, beach and foreshore) in a highly sensitive and protected area. Rocks were broken and boulders removed to facilitate vehicle access to the shore, presumably for the owners to enjoy their water sports unhindered by common mortals.

Enforcement Notice 00466/07 was recently issued to put a temporary stop to the rampage and misappropriation. In accordance with Minister Pullicino’s new measures, aerial photos to check what was there before and then have the illegality removed before consideration is given to any relative application should have followed it.

However, Mr Gasan through his architects Martin Xuereb & Associates, now puts in an application to “Reinstate and marginally extend security fence, planting of indigenous trees / shrubs and reinstating rubble walls in vicinity of existing dwelling, repairing damaged internal roads and footpaths.” This is an evident fabrication and Mr Vella wrote: Even the MEPA mapserver can reveal the ante-mortem. Besides, there was only one road stopping mid-way and certainly no damaged internal roads to repair. Only footpaths led to the beach and to the fields.

The “reinstating rubble walls in vicinity of existing dwelling” bit is also a ‘clever’ euphemism of scandalous proportions. Just consider that 10 years ago the former owners also tried to enclose more land on the cliff edge through the construction of a wall without a permit. ECF01195/98 put a stop to this illegality. An appeal (826/98E) was lodged on 9 November 1998 against the enforcement order but it was conclusively over-ruled by the decision of the Appeals Board on 28 September 1999, confirming that the wall be removed within 16 days. Needless to say the enforcement order was never carried out and the wall allowed to remain. In the meantime more stone rubble was thrown behind the illegal wall for future use. It’s time has now come.

Enter Joe Gasan who applies to sanction the wall: Application 05953/06 – “To sanction existing rubble wall (whole rubble) and extend same to enclose private property.” It is a brazen wonder of wonders that the “DCC 46-01A/07, held on 24 April 2007, approved the application in view that the height of wall is acceptable and keeps away people from damaging the natural habitat and fauna.”

Mr Vella wrote: What an act of hypocritical environmental heroism! Everybody else, Maltese or foreign, is deprived from enjoying the views from the cliff top, disturbed by the former owners themselves with dumping of rubble, while the new owners selfishly enjoy them from the top in comfort. Everybody else is denied access to the beach and foreshore while the new owners are permitted to abusively get there on sporty jeeps driving in the middle of virgin land with abundant flora and fauna, in a conservation area specially scheduled exactly against such insensitivity.

Mr Vella added: Please, spare us the pathetic pretext that the previous wall was refused for the reason that there was no permit and that the issue of maintenance was non-existent. Walls over cliff edges are regulated by special conditions; need one remind MEPA of that?

This is blatant contempt of the law and it is MEPA’s duty to put paid to this abuse with immediate effect.

Should the Authority not rise to the occasion the Ramblers Association will do everything legally possible to fight the injustice with the might of its numbers. Furthermore, it intends to organise protests to reclaim the rights of civil society over the appropriated areas.

Destruction was carried out illegally and is irreversible in an area that falls under various schedules of conservation. Such crimes are punishable by heavy fines under the law and ought to be applied. The irregularity can never be sanctioned under EU conventions signed by Malta.

In reply to Mr Vella, Peter Gingell, MEPA marketing executive, replied: “Further to your queries some time ago, I am herewith forwarding you some information on the action the authority has taken over these weeks on particular cases you outlined within the area of Fomm ir-Rih and Ras il-Pellegrin l/o Rabat and Mgarr.

“Villa Delfino – The site is already subject to enforcement action in ECF 466/07 (formation of track), ECF 1195/98 (illegal wall) & ECF 745/96 (illegal extension to gun post). The latter two cases were issued against the previous owners. All three cases were referred for direct action. Incidentally, more work (laying of tiles) was noted last week within the premises and in breach of the active notices. Workers were asked to cease work. As such PA 6321/07 is to be recommended for dismissal in terms of Art 57.2 of the DPA. The PEO went on site today and found the gate closed.

“Rubble wall – The said rubble wall is now sanctioned by PA 5953/06 issued 13/02/08. The permit would be included in the monitoring process to ensure compliance with the permit conditions.

“Track at Ras il-Pellegrin – No permits were traced and investigations led nowhere. ECF 95/08 is to be issued against the unknown landowner / occupier for having formed a track on scheduled property.

“Caravan – The PEO has been trying to meet its owner for the last months but to no avail. Therefore ECF 94/08 is now to be issued and will be fixed on site in line with procedures.

“New building on farm - Building is covered by PA 1527/04. Development is monitored and the last inspection carried out on 21/01/08 revealed that the work is compliant with permit.”


SG said...

PA 05953/06 was approved on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 by DCC 46-01A/07 held on 24th April 2007, in view that height of wall is acceptable and keeps away people from damaging the natural habitat and fauna. This in spite of a DPA report recommending refusal of permission.

SG said...

Please also note application 06321/07 to "Reinstate and marginally extend security fence, planting of indegenous trees / shrubs and reinstating rubble walls in vicinity of existing dwelling, repairing damaged internal roads and footpaths". Although DCC dismissed application, it stated that Architect/applicant are willing to rectify what is necessary.