NGOs ask about transfer of land at Hondoq
(Adds Lands Department reaction)
Eight environmental organisations have asked to be informed as to whether any requests for transfer of land at Hondoq Bay have been received by the Lands Department.
Moviment Harsien Hondoq, FAA, Ramblers, Nature Trust, Wirt Ghawdex, FoE Malta, Din l-Art Helwa and GUG said in a statement that Hondoq ir-Rummien's planning history began with the 1969 expropriation of Hondoq Quarry including the site of the Reverse Osmosis plant, to provide stone for the Mgarr breakwater.
In 1988, Gozo Prestige Holidays entered into a 'promise of sale' with the previous owners, the Augustinian Brothers, depending on full development permits being acquired.
That same year Qala council applied to convert the area into a national park, but the permit fees required by Mepa did not make this feasible at the time.
In June 2002, the land was returned to the Augustinian Brothers, excluding the site of the reverse osmosis plant.
In July that year, developers put in an application for the Qala Creek Project, despite the area's ODZ status, and the fact that the proposal violated the draft local plan published in June 2002, agreed upon by Qala council and Mepa. This stated: "The preferred use is to reclaim the area either for agricultural use or afforestation."
The organisations said that the slightly modified Qala Creek development project was again presented to Mepa in January 2006, but it was still contrary to the draft local plan and ODZ status.
However, these issues were 'resolved' when the final local plan was published in August that year.
This had been changed without the knowledge or approval of Qala council or the public, and now stated: "The preferred use is to sensitively develop the area. Tourism and marine related development may be considered by Mepa."
The organisations said that Mepa's Environment Protection Directorate took three years to get a non-biased EIS of acceptable quality from the developers, until finally a "barely certifiable version" was received. Subsequently the EPD recommended the project's refusal in mid-2011.
But before the Mepa board could give its final decision on the project, the developers withdrew the original proposal, and suggested a new one in late 2011, replacing the marina with a swimming lagoon, despite the developers previous insistence that the marina was essential to the project's success.
This proposal went beyond the footprint of the original application, hence Mepa requested that the developers submit a totally new application. The developers appealed and the process is ongoing.
The additional footprint is the land with the reverse osmosis plant, which is still government-owned. The developers want to demolish the plant and replace it with a public car park. In doing so, they gain extra space within the original project area, the organisations said.
They said that in accordance with the Development Planning Act, the Hondoq Creek developers notified the Land Department of their intentions.
The organisations insisted on an urgent public reply from the Lands Department as to whether any requests for the transfer of this land had been received.
They asked the authorities to clearly state their stand on this transfer and on the proposed development.
The organisations said they felt very strongly about the site being handed over for speculative purposes.
LANDS DEPARTMENT REACTION
In a reaction, the Lands Department said it was not aware of any request for transfer of Land at Hondoq.
However, the required check will be made and a reply will be given in the coming days.
A spokesman said that the NGOs should have first submitted their request on a weekday so that it could be answered.