Sunday, 29 January 2012

29 Jan 2012: The Seven Chapels of Wardija - Part 1

Another interesting walk led by Simon.

Some pictures below, and more pictures in Part 2.

Il-Kappella ta' San Martin

Il-Kappella tal- Madonna tal-Abbandunati

Il-faccata tal-kappella tal-Madonna tal-Abbandunati

Kappella ta' San Gorg

Il-Palazz Qannotta

Il-Kappella ta' San Xmun l-Appostlu

Il-Gzejjer ta' Selmunett

Il-Hotba ta' Gaba

View from Wardija

Il-Kappella ta' San Gwann l-Ghammiedi

29 Jan 2012: The Seven Chapels of Wardija: Part 2

Descending towards Wied Qannotta

A hidden footpath

Palazz Gerxija

Il-Kunzijjoni ta' Wied Qannotta


Heading towards Bidnija

The seventh chapel

The Eighth Chapel?? (a mock chapel)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

NGOs call on parties to agree to remove Armier squatters

NGOs call on parties to agree to remove Armier squatters

The Environmental groups Ramblers' Association, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth, Din l-Art Helwa, Nature Trust have welcomed the decision by MEPA to turn down an application by Enemalta for a substation to be built in Armier which, they said, was intended to serve the squatter community there.

"We now urge the two main political parties to unite behind the move for the demolition of Armier's illegal township and to prove that they are able to place national before party interests. Environmental concerns cannot be dissociated from political ones especially in pre-election periods. The issue of usurped public land is of grave national importance and politicians who close their eyes to the misappropriation of public property are not working in the interest of their country but of their party."

The NGOs said the refusal of the Enemalta application for the Armier substation by the Mepa Board does not mean that the Armier problem has been solved.

"The squatters will now almost certainly intensify efforts to retain their illegal occupation of land which rightly belongs to all Maltese, by trying to hold politicians to ransom through the power of their voting numbers, as they did before the last general election.

"If the abuse committed at Armier is legalised, MEPA will lose the hard-earned credibility it has gained. Certainly MEPA will set a precedent which could render it unable to prevent or penalise any misappropriation of land that takes place anywhere else on the Maltese Islands."

The NGOs said continued control over the correct and legal use of property is crucial to the stability and prosperity of Malta and its people.

"In the prevailing circumstances political parties that put their interest above the national one cannot expect to enjoy the trust of environmental groups and their followers."

Daniel Gaffarena

Yesterday, 16:09

Just so you know, most of those houses where built long before we where born and at a time where it was not illegal to build on that land, I don't think they should be taking them down, that would be a wrong move.

Carmel Cilia

Yesterday, 11:25

Mr. Vassallo huwa anke fejn kien hemm area ta bungalows li taghxqek (qieghed nirreferi ghal Santa Marija Estate) il mepa ghamlet jungla tal concrete ahseb u ara kemm tista taghfdha kef qeghdin tghidu intkom. U Ohra jien ma nafx biex u fejn gabret gieha il-Mepa. Mela anke NGO lesti li jghawgu il-verita tal fatti jew. Mela insewwa il-Bicca ta dak ir-ras kbira fil P.N. li harbat il-Bahrija. Veru tal-Biki dan il-pajjiz.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rabat Lunzjata Wied ir-Rum

Today's walk, in excellent weather, was attended by around 45 ramblers.

Walk leaders: Elaine, Nancy and Pat.

Some photos below.

One of the leaders at Lunzjata chapel.

A wayside memorial


Cave Entrance

Wied ir-Rum


Wied Liemu

Wied ir-Rum

Friday, 6 January 2012

Armier sub-station application refused

Armier sub-station application refused

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority unanimously refused Enemalta’s application for a sub-station in Armier, saying there was no justification for the structure in an outside development zone.

The Environment Planning Commission refused the application which was recommended for refusal, saying that other sites, including buildings or areas within scheme could have been chosen for the sub-station.

During the meeting, for which around 50 boathouse residents were present, the board heard Enemalta’s architect explain that the sub-station was needed because the area suffered from low voltage.

The architect said that the closest sub-station was around 1,500 metres away, more than five times the recommended distance. He pointed out that there were residences, farms and tourist complexes in the area and that the area suffered from a low voltage in summer.

The case officer’s report was more concerned about the boat houses. But the application for the sub-station did not mean that the number of boathouses would increase. Many had electricity metres which had been granted legally.

There were aerials belonging to Go and Melita and the wind mast belonging to the Resources Ministry.

Sandra Magro, who headed the board, asked the architect several times to identify the businesses and developments within a 300-metre radius which required a sub-station.

Without actually identifying these structures on the map, the architect said that the corporation had a duty to provide safe and adequate electricity to all.

Tarcisio Barbara, representing Armier Developments, said that the boathouse owners had been promised by several governments that they would not lose their property. Hundreds, he said, had legal electricity metres.

However, the low voltage in summer was causing a number of electrical problems which damaged the owners’ appliances and someone had to take responsibility.

He pointed out that the environmental groups were making the application out to be one for boathouses and not for a substation. He added that he did not expect them to come out so strongly against this sub-station.

He referred to the Prime Minister’s letter reassuring the boat owners that measures would be taken to safeguard their property and pointed out that the boathouses were included in the Marfa action plan.

Mrs Magro, who is also the Mepa board’s deputy chairman, pointed out that the Marfa Action Plan had still not been approved, the area was still outside scheme and, therefore, the commission had to take a decision on the present planning policies in the area.

Mellieha mayor Robert Cutajar, speaking on behalf of the council said it was against any illegalities of any type but pointed out that there were farmers and business communities that needed electricity who should not suffer because of illegalities.

Alex Vella, president of the Ramblers Association, one of the NGOs protesting against the application, pointed out that the low electricity supply in summer was caused by boathouse owners who owned an electricity metre from which they also fed their neighbours.

He said that when he had built a hotel years ago, he had been requested to provide the space within the property for the sub-station. He argued that the same should be done for any businesses or tourist complexes that needed the sub-station.

Joanne Vella

Today, 13:54


j brincat

Joseph Calleja

Today, 12:57

That will only happen in your dreams. Those illegal boathouses are there to stay and so is the rest of the illegal boathouses all over Malta and Gozo. Unfortunately MEPA cannot fight the might of the government.

J Stafrace

Today, 13:12

I concur. Same measures with everyone.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

MEPA to decide Friday on substation for Armier 'boathouses'

MEPA to decide Friday on substation for Armier 'boathouses'

Environment NGOs have, yet again, voiced their strong opposition to Mepa granting permission to Enemalta to set up an electricity substation serving the 'squatters' village' in Armier.

The decision is due to be taken by Mepa this Friday.

"Common sense instinctively guided the Case Officer to recommend an outright refusal of this application. Apparently the Case Officer has a lot more sense than Enemalta, which should never have submitted this application in the first place," the NGOs said.

They said the squatters are illegally occupying approximately 67,000 sq mt of prime seafront ODZ real estate at Armier bay.

"Enemalta, in their wisdom, have already supplied these 800 beach rooms with electricity, presumably without asking for a compliance certificate from Mepa, as they normally do for ordinary members of the public. Now Enemalta wants to strengthen the electricity supply, so that these squatters will be better served.

"For a member of the European Union that prides itself on its principles of democracy and justice to allow prime land to be illegally seized, and subsequently have this occupation supported by a government entity, is an insult to every tax-paying citizen of these over-exploited islands."

The NGOs - Ramblers Association of Malta, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Din L-Art Helwa, Malta Organic and Agriculture Movement, Nature Trust Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta and Birdlife Malta urged Mepa to do what is reasonable, right and morally just, and 'throw out this application'.

"Mepa has recently been acting a little more responsibly in withholding permits to applicants who are clearly and blatantly abusing the system. An approval of this application would send out a totally different signal – that of rewarding illegality, and would go down in history as one of the most irresponsible, illegal and unjust precedents that MEPA has ever set."

Jay Oatmon

Today, 16:22

Malta is a third world country, it does what is easy not what is needed, and the politicians are spineless in dealing with lawbreakers in Malta.

Alan Xuereb

Today, 14:36

It's like setting up a smoking area for joints.

Mario Muscat

Today, 19:08

While I agree with you to a certain extent, it doesn't mean that all these people vote to the same party.

Philip Hili

Today, 13:29

@ M Farrugia

It is very interesting to know how Rodrick Galdes, a serving MP and a MEPA employee how is going to cast his vote in this matter. Is he after some votes, now that the election is nearing? Or is he going to vote against MEPA proposal as he always did in order to be opposing what MEPA proposes and this go against the squatters? Which side Roderick Galdes is going to side, the squatters' side or the MEPA side????

Siding with MEPA and against the squqtters I think it will be the first time that Roderick Galdes sides with his employer and against his parliamenty seat. Whereas if he sides the squatters, he will be ignoring the peoples' wish in order to accommodate people who occupied public land without any title.

Mr Duncan Scerri

Today, 13:42

What about the almost 25 years of PN failure to do anything, except promise to regularise the boathouses? Would you like that answer before the election? Hang on, you had it last election and the PN sided with the squatters. Twit.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Intriguing public land issues

Intriguing public land issues

The Ramblers’ Association receives frequent calls and letters from non- members about land issues. We always do our best to follow up.

A recent note concerned an idividual who likes roaming around on the Wardija ridge. Some time ago he was surprised to discover “No Entry” signs on reaching the hilltop used by the British as a cannon battery during the war. Thinking that the signs were abusively placed he proceeded on his ramble since it was his customary route, only to be accosted by one of three persons lingering there. He was told that it was private land, their land, all of seven tumoli (approximately two acres).

He wrote to us and in turn we wrote to the Lands Department asking whether the land in question was government land. We received an affirmative answer: government property given out some years back on “agricultural lease” – a type of land-lease (in Maltese qbiela), generally for agricultural purposes, that is annually renewed unless stopped by notification in advance.

We visited the place peculiarly named Il-Ħotba ta’ Gaba – a rock outcrop commanding such high ground over the bay of St Paul’s that no wonder the British set up a battery of powerful cannon there in defence of the harbour. The panorama is breathtaking with a wide-sweeping horizon that takes in Selmun, Xemxija, Mistra, St Paul’s Islands, Qawra, Magħtab, Madliena, Għargħur, Naxxar, Mosta and Mdina, with the fertile slopes from corresponding ridges in the foreground and the blue Mediterranean at the back.

The concrete platforms of the British cannons are still very evident on the otherwise very barren terrain that sparsely supports maquis. This baffled us: how come the land was leased for agricultural purposes when there was not one square inch of arable land? Does this signify that the department has no idea of the nature of the land it leases out? Does no department officer visit a site before it is leased out? Unbelievable.

Agriculture is conspicuous by its absence. There is, however, unmistakeable evidence of hunting and trapping: hides, spent cartridges and steel fixtures in the rock. Certainly no farmer was earning a living from these two acres! Seeing is believing and one can only believe if one visits the place.

We asked for a meeting with the Department of Lands and were cordially received. It was a session that gave us the first insight into the conventional methods of management of government or public land, which leave much to be desired.

We asked for a copy of the contract but were politely told that such contracts were not accessible for public viewing. Interesting indeed! So officials from the Lands Department can lease out government (read public) property without the owner (read public) having the right to know the terms and conditions! This raises various questions: Does government land belong or not to the people? Is it socially just that for the meagre sum of less than €100 annually such a vast tract of historical and scenic land is bestowed upon one person while the people are deprived from enjoying it?

Another land issue was brought to our attention by the Wardija residents and farmers. It concerned a tender issued by the Lands Department for a site in Ġnien Busewdien. The tender called for offers for a three-tumoli field, for a period of 50 years: lowest acceptable offer €1,500 annually. The tender heading clearly said that the field was to be used “solely for agricultural purposes”. The price sounded oddly expensive so we decided to probe deeper. We felt we had to visit the place.

To our surprise we found that the topsoil was rocky and sparse, not economically feasible for agricultural usage at that rate. Also a large part of the land was garigue and bare rock. But, the field bordered on one side a new three-storey construction on the very edge of the cliff overlooking Wied Qannota, in an outside development zone area. This fact duly stirred the residents because the new construction was out of the ordinary, to say the least. They felt that since the developer succeeded somehow to build in ODZ they could only suspect the worst: the spread of more construction where it should not occur.

We were in full agreement and to stress home the point asked the Audit Office of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to carry out an investigation.

Back to the tender: The tender was won by the one and only offer for €1,510. And it came from the same tenant who had held the same field on agricultural lease (qbiela) for many years before. Why would the same tenant opt for a 50-year lease at such a price rather than carry on with the agricultural lease which did not exceed €100 annually? We found the answer in the terms of the eventual contract, published in the tender. Condition 4 gave the winner practically a free hand of what he could do with the land! The rate of €1,510 is prohibitive for agricultural use but is peanuts for speculative purposes.

At this point we asked for a meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi who wisely called the presence of the respective heads from the Lands Department. The two issues above were raised together with others, about which more next time.

On the issue of Il-Ħotba ta’ Gaba we asked the department to stop the lease forthwith, as it has every right to do, since the present tenant was not earning his living from the land and neither could agricultural use be made of it. Ramblers even offered to take over the land to see to the upkeep of its natural and historical aspects and to render it accessible and amenable to the public.

To date, 15 weeks after our first letter and two subsequent reminders, there is still no answer from the Lands top people. The no entry signs at the Ħotba have been removed but we have no idea why.

On the other issue of Ġnien Busewdien we asked that the tender be withdrawn and an investigation be carried out, for the reason that we had serious doubts about the contract conditions and the way the tender was worded.

The heads of the Lands Department explained it was a standard contract ­– in our opinion a surprisingly naïve admission. The Parliamentary Secretary understood our surprised remarks and opined that the contract conditions should be reviewed and amended. The department is in duty bound to maximise revenue from public land, and that we understand; but surely not at the cost of paving the way for land speculation.

There are other land issues that we hope to put forward in future for the scrutiny of readers. Our purpose behind this is solely to raise awareness of conventional practices that the Lands Department has inherited.

Overwhelmed as the department undoubtedly is by the intricate nature of land ownership and its management, the intention of the Ramblers’ Association is to point out objectively any weaknesses in the system that may be taken advantage of by the crafty self-seeker as well as the more unscrupulous opportunist. It is common good that we seek to champion.

Mr Vella is president of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta.


Keith Aquilina