Wednesday, 19th May 2010 - 12:01CET
Eco-Gozo campaign credibility in the balance - NGOs
Seven environment and heritage NGOs maintain that the credibility of the Eco-Gozo campaign hangs in the balance as the Qala Creek project to build a hotel, 250 residences and a yacht marina in the Hondoq hillside is assessed.
Archaeological Society Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, GAIA Foundation, Moviment Ħarsien Ħondoq, Ramblers Association and the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement said that the approved Gozo and Comino localplan proposed the Hondoq ir-Rummien area as a site of ecological importance, a site of scientific importance for its geology, an area of ecological importance and as a category ‘A’ valley. It is also a proposed area of high landscape value (which imposes the tightest restrictions against residential, commercial or tourism development, including roads and public utility services.
The organisations said they were seriously concerned about the impact of the project on the residents of Qala, 85 per cent of whom had voted against the project.
In 2002, a Mepa air pollution study found Qala to be twice as polluted as Sliema, mainly due to heavy vehicle traffic to the nearby hardstone quarry.
Mepa surveys on Gozo yacht marinas eliminated Qala as a potential site due to its pristine waters. Although the developers insist that the sandy beach would not be touched, their own scientific report clearly stated that Hondoq Bay would definitely be affected by the release of the anti-fouling compound.
While conscious of the need to create employment in the tourism sector, the NGOs questioned whether this project would achieve this in significant numbers since other tourist establishments in Gozo were resorting to low-wage foreign labour.
Much of the project, they said, was s planned as multi-ownership units which would attract Maltese buyers but would generate fewer employment opportunities.
The NGOs said that the present neglect of the area should not justify a speculative project. Prior to 2002, the land was designated as a national park; in fact the dumping was approved by the Qala Council as infill to start implementing the park plans.
“The proposed development of a port, hotel, yacht marina and tourist village would change the character and very nature of this area; the present peace and quiet which are the main attraction of Hondoq ir-Rummien will be totally destroyed with the coming and going of yachts and the heavy traffic to be generated.
“With Marsalforn and Xlendi already ruined by speculative development, Gozo needs to protect its quiet, rural character which is what draws tourists to the island.
“It is not just Hondoq ir-Rummien that will suffer with approval of this project, but the whole of Gozo.
“Not only will the marina sacrifice circa 10,000m2 of precious limited land to the sea, but once approved, the project could trigger a string of developments which would devour the whole eastern coast of Gozo,” they said.
The NGOs maintained that the best use of this area would be its integration into a wider context of maritime, cultural and agricultural landscapes, combining a natural park planted with local trees, organic farming, a heritage trail to include bicycle tracks and pathways connecting to the fort at Ras il-Qala, rock climbing and an open air theatre.
With the reinstatement of the watercourse, a managed beach offering barbeque stations, the provision of car-free transport and facilities integrated into the landscape, a holistic project would attract more tourists year-round than yet another speculative project.
Such a project as proposed by the University architecture students in the FAA/University/Qala Council award would result in a win-win situation for the residents of Qala who would continue to enjoy the area.
It was also economically feasible - the MEPA Natural Heritage Committee remarked that the EIA “completely put aside the fact that both mineral extraction and infilling generate a substantial amount of revenue. The Panel feels that this latter alternative has only been superficially explored, definitely not exhaustively and deserves further consideration.”
The NGOs said that refusal of this project would permit the government to purchase the site at non-development rates and to convert the quarry into a national park as previously planned, attracting more tourists to Gozo allowing present and future generations to enjoy the natural beauty and serenity of Hondoq ir-Rummien.
The NGOs said they strongly supported this recommendation and urged Mepa to refuse this project.