Sunday, 4 October 2009

Huge tracts of land repossessed after 300 years

From the STOM of 4th Oct, 2009:

Huge tracts of land repossessed after 300 years

The foreshore outlined in yellow shows the land the government has repossessed after 300 years.

Huge tracts of land snaking along the coast between Fomm ir-Riħ and Ġnejna have been reclaimed by the government after more than 300 years in private hands.

The stretch of nearly 60,000 square metres - which makes up almost 20 per cent of the island's territory (this is a very obvious mistake on the part of the author) - is now public land and parts will become accessible for leisurely walks.

Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi told The Sunday Times that deeds of transfer in Latin, dating as far back as 1695, had to be consulted in this painstaking process to reclaim vast areas of foreshore.

The process started last year when the Ramblers' Association met Dr Azzopardi to discuss accessibility at Fomm ir-Riħ.

Dr Azzopardi directed the Government Property Division to start registering the vast swathes of land in the area, which covered 200,000 square metres of pristine natural habitat. This spurred four families who own property in the area - including the foreshore - to come forward waving centuries-old deeds proving they were the heirs.

A lawyer who was well-versed in property law and fluent in old Italian and Latin was engaged to go through the musty yellowing files stored at the Land Department and the Public Registry to establish who owned the land.

"It was a journey into the past and it was intriguing to come across the institute of the primo genito (showing how the title of the land was passed on to the firstborn)," Dr Azzopardi said.

Once it was proved the land was privately owned, Dr Azzopardi said he had no difficulty instructing the division to de-register the land, with the exception of the foreshore.

"Even if their title did cover the foreshore, I will not release it in favour of these families at the expense of the public," he said, adding that the discussions with the families involved were reasonable and cordial.

To be able to repossess the foreshore and establish which parts it covered, Roman law had to be consulted. This stipulates that the foreshore is the part of the coast covered by the largest wave in the worst winter storm.

The families relented and now more than 4.3 kilometres of coastline is registered as public property.

Dr Azzopardi said that just some days ago, the division held talks with the landowners to secure a safer public passage to the bay at Fomm ir-Riħ to replace the current one that forces people to meander through steep clay slopes.

If the Malta Environment and Planning Authority gives the green light, the idea is to install a simple stone staircase, with minimal intervention to the area. A route leading to the southern part of the bay, which is inaccessible, is also being proposed.

"We want to ensure full access rights to the public as soon as possible," Dr Azzopardi said.

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