Monday, 3 August 2009

PR: NGOs request investigation on Qala permit.

Il-Bukkett before and after

NGOs request investigation on Qala permit.

The DCC Board has just approved another application (PA7810/06) irregularly in a sensitive Category 1 ODZ rural settlement, this time in the eco-island (sic) of Gozo. Following so soon upon the Bahrija debacle, nine NGOs comprising Ramblers’ Association of Malta, Nature Trust, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth, BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Helwa, GAIA, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, and Light Pollution Awareness Group cannot understand, and would again like to query, why MEPA persists in disrespecting its own internal regulations and continues to freely interpret Local Plan policies, breaking them flagrantly at will.

The location is none other than the “Il-Bukkett” complex on the panoramic road that from Mgarr leads to Qala, overlooking the scenic coastline of Southern Gozo and the panoramic view of the Comino Channel with the Blue Lagoon and the Maltese Island beyond. The Board irrationally granted permission, in this Category 1 ODZ rural settlement placed on a site of high landscape value, to turn the present low lying rural “casa-bottega” restaurant into a multi-storey imposing development that will involve the construction of "additional floors, the demolition of dwellings and construction of new units with a pool, the construction of an underground basement parking as well as the sanctioning of infringements at the existing commercial area."

It is already suspect that the designation of “rural settlement” (and the development potential that comes with it) has been accorded to just this and another structure which were previously out of development zone. Far larger clusters have been denied that designation.

In spite of valid arguments put forward against the development by the Local Council of Qala and others, in spite of the well-informed recommendations of the Case Officers to dismiss reconsideration of the application, the DCC board irrationally overruled and decided to break Structure Plan and Local Plan policies with the usual nonchalance. What had been refused for 7 valid reasons by the same Board only a few months before was reconsidered and approved after the applicant made alterations so minor that 6 of the 7 valid reasons were not adequately addressed.

In fact the application remains objectionable because it infringes (i) Policy GZ-RLST-1: unacceptability of basements and need of side gardens; (ii) Policy GZ-Hous-1: the mixture and inclusion of large commercial areas in a purely residential zone is unacceptable; (iii) Policy 2.7 of the Policy and Design Guidance 2005: development disrespects the topography of the site; (iv) GZ-EDGE-2, BEN 2 & Policy & Design Guidelines 2005 on the sensitive design of the valley side of developments, where the mitigation of visual impact is of tantamount relevance; (v) Policy RCO 4: devalues the high scenic value of area. The permit is also at fault with respect to normal parking requirements.

Both the Directorate and the DCC treated very lightly an unclear situation regarding a claim of illegality of part of the structure. More emphasis should have been laid on the existing illegality and the consequential lack of any attempt to include it in the sanctioning request, considering that this is such a sensitive site. This premise alone should render the permit null. It is unexplainable that building infringements were here ignored and permits issued when an almost adjacent habitation was denied water and electricity services for years and had its windows wall up because of building infringements.

Furthermore, the Local Plans Unit allowed a basement in violation of the area policy on which the Local Plan is very clear. In such a prominent first-impression location of pristine landscape value, visible to all arriving visitors from the ferry, any development proposal should be totally screened and definitely should not be highly obtrusive as this development will be (see montage). In this case the Local Plans Unit irrationally assigned a commanding role to the urbanization policy GZ-RLST-1 over the environment policy GZ-RECR-4, in a rural setting with high scenic value, when the opposite should have been applied.

The insensitive development will have serious repercussions on the remainder of the belvedere road, will lead to more ribbon development (this time between Mgarr and Qala), will impact negatively the visual impression that visitors first get, and irreversibly destroy the landscape value of the cliff face of the southern coast of Gozo.

The nine NGOs, backed by the Local Council of Qala, have called formally on the MEPA Auditor to immediately investigate this irrational DCC decision, certainly not taken in the best interests of Gozo.

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