Wednesday, 17th November 2010
Another Natura site to hit the dust?
At a recent meeting organised by the chairman of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Austin Walker, with the NGOs, the question was asked as to why Mepa boards were so lenient about sanctioning illegalities in protected sites outside the development zone (ODZ). Mr Walker answered spontaneously that he preferred sanctioning by the Mepa boards rather than letting cases go before the Appeals Board because, anyway, this board always decides in favour of the appellants.
This shocking attitude of defeatism augurs badly for another Natura 2000 candidate site – Fomm ir-Riħ.
Today, the Appeals Board is due to hear the appeal lodged by Joe Gasan against the decision of the Development Control Commission/Mepa to dismiss his application (PA06321/07) “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” at Fomm ir-Riħ.
The reasons why Mr Gasan’s application was dismissed were sound and fully justified.
The Ramblers’ Association of Malta (RAM) would like to bring to public attention the unfortunate saga of Fomm ir-Riħ – a special protection area under the Wild Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and a candidate special area of conservation under the Natura 2000 Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).
In 2007, Mr Gasan commissioned works that involved the formation of roads and landscaping without the necessary Mepa permit. Heavy machinery was brought in to break up and move boulders to form such roads. Rightly, Mepa served enforcement notice EC00466/07 on Mr Gasan on July 3, 2007, for the “formation of passageway on scheduled land without permit”.
Consequently, on October 16, 2007, Mr Gasan applied “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.” Mepa set May 27, 2008 as the target date for deciding the application.
RAM members continued to monitor Fomm ir-Riħ and noted that works were continuing unabated in spite of the enforcement notice and in spite of the fact that the planning application was not yet decided. So, on February 23, 2008, RAM protested strongly to the then Mepa chairman: “It is hard to believe that Mepa is unaware of the irreversible damage being done to this site that has Natura 2000 status.”
RAM insisted the application was “an evident fabrication” because before the works started “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 Mepa map-server could verify the fact. Following verification that stop orders went unheeded, the planning directorate recommended, and the DCC approved, dismissal of PA06321/07 on the strength of article 52.7 of the Planning Act on April 21, 2008.
On August 13, 2008, RAM delegates met with Mepa officials to discuss the situation at Fomm ir-Riħ. The RAM delegation argued that the protected site risks losing its Natura 2000 status. It was Mepa’s remit to prevent such abuses and yet again Mepa was proving to be ineffective. Penalties and fines, though rediculously low, have not been applied.
The Mepa officials expressed dissatisfaction with the toothless instruments of Mepa, which renders their efforts practically useless. They confirmed that Mepa has exhausted the legal means at its disposal to stop degradation and could not do more because the applicant appealed.
With this frame of mind it remains for the Board of Appeals to confirm the Natura 2000 status of Fomm ir-Riħ a dead duck.
After the debacle of Dwejra, another Natura 2000 site is queued to hit the dust.