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Ħondoq loophole could open backdoor for new developmet

Environmentalists represented by lawyer and prominent activist Claire Bonello have expressed concern that a proposed revision of local policies aimed at restricting development in Ħondoq ir-Rummien to afforestation projects, comes with a caveat leaving a window for future development on part of the site.

Bonello had represented the Qala local council in its decades-long legal case against the proposed development of a tourist village and a yacht marina in the area, which was shot down by both the Planning Authority and the law courts.

On Wednesday, following a gruelling 22-year battle spearheaded by environmentalists and mayor Paul Buttigieg, the Planning Authority issued the three main objectives of its local plan review to ensure the protection of Ħondoq ir-Rummien.

But the amendments are likely to again protracte the debate on the future of Ħondoq, as the PA aims to split the area in two: one governed by the new restrictive policy, and another where some sort of development can be allowed.

The amendments will only be drafted following the first round of public consultation on the objectives, which will be subsequently reissued for another round of public consultation.

In the proposed objectives, the PA is proposing that any form of development within the area of Ħondoq is prohibited and that in the future, the site should only be used for an afforestation project.

This aim will be achieved by revising local plan policy GZ-Qala-4 in a way which prohibits “all forms of development on the land, allocate the site for afforestation and provide clear guidelines on what this designation entails in terms of works and activities”.

The present local plan policy being revised today allows “sensitively designed, high quality and low-density buildings that blend into the landscape” in the Ħondoq area.

But the policy revision being proposed now also seeks to change a map of safeguarded areas in Qala, included in the local plan, where development is currently regulated by two policies namely GZ-Qala-3 and GZ Qala-4.

The PA is proposing splitting the area, regulated by the two intertwined policies.

And it is here that environmentalists are concerned with Claire Bonello already having expressed concerns in her submission to the PA.

The is because the proposed objectives also aim at ”clearly distinguishing” between land governed by the GZ-Qala-3 policy – which is not being changed – and the GZ-Qala-4, which will be changed by a restrictive policy limiting any development which can be approved to afforestation.

GZ-Qala-3 states that the PA will “favourably consider proposals from public agencies, which have the endorsement of both the Local Council of Qala as well as Central Government, to upgrade beach facilities at Ħondoq ir-Rummien.” But the same policy also refers to the quarry area – which was slated for the controversial development of marina resort – stating that the “preferred use is to sensitively develop the area” and that “tourism and marine related development may be considered by the PA in this area subject to sensitive landscaping’.

In the absence of a specific amendment to this policy, the PA risks leaving a window for possible tourist development on a part of Ħondoq, the extent of which still has to be determined.

In the stated objectives of the current review there is no reference to amending policy GZ Qala-3.

Bonello notes that there is no clear indication that the wording of GZ-Qala-3 is to be amended to exclude development, including tourism and marine related development. “Consequently – if the map is redrawn with GZ-Qala-3 being extended to take up a sizeable part of the site presently designated in orange – development will still be allowed on the site.”

Bonello warns that in the absence of any specific, definite and numerical parameters regulating height, volume, footprint and Gross Floor Area of allowable development, there can still be deleterious overdevelopment.

The same applies to permissible uses. “These have to be defined in a restrictive manner – otherwise anything can be considered as a beach facility, including restaurants, hotels, etcetera...”

She also noted that there is no mention of what uses or activities will be allowed in the sea. “If jetties or pontoons are allowed, we will end up with a de facto yacht marina anyway,” she warns.

Specific law to protect Ħondoq also proposed

Bonello has also presented a draft proposal of a law entitled the Ħondoq ir-Rummien (Preservation) Act, which declares the entire area of “Ħondoq ir-Rummien” to be “a non-developable area” where development of any kind, “whether temporary or permanent, construction, erection of any structure, excavation, change of use or intensification of use other than afforestation is prohibited”.

Significantly the law proposes “a right of action” to any citizen to take legal action to nullify any permit issued at Ħondoq in breach of the law. The law would empower any person to take legal action as he or she will not be required to show any private interest in support of his action.

The proposed act specifies a draft of the law has been presented to the Prime Minister for his consideration.

Representations on the proposed policy revision acan be sent to the Planning Authority through email address: [email protected] till October 31 2023.