‘Moving goal posts’ – NGOs lambast proposed Ħal Ferħ development

Six environmental non-governmental organisations have lambasted the proposed development in Ħal Ferħ which is set to be discussed by the Environment and Development Planning Parliamentary Committee on Monday following a proposal by the Planning Authority.

The planning watchdog is proposing amendments to the 2006 North West Local Plan and to the 2008 Ħal Ferħ Development Brief, to allow permanent residences within the Ħal Ferħ complex.

The NGOs highlighted that what the Planning Authority is proposing will constitute in a fundamental change to the parameters under which both the 2009 emphyteutic grant, and the 2014 development permit PA/04906/10 were approved.

“The emphyteutic grant specifically excluded permanent residential use; the grant does contain the standard provision that changes to the deed may be agreed between the parties, however the big question is why would such a fundamental change to the destination of this site be promoted by Government, on behalf of the real landlords, who are the citizens of Malta and Gozo?” the NGOs said.

The NGOs pointed out that in addition the original permit conditions demanded that the approved development would be strictly used for tourist accommodation and for no other use, and further insisted that the proposed development “shall be used for tourist accommodation and shall not be used for permanent residential occupation”.

“This was the opinion of the Authority in 2013, which opinion was reiterated when the application to extend the validity of the permit was approved in 2019 with the same conditions,” the NGO said.

According to the NGOs the amended development brief was a result of the instructions from the government.

“It is becoming completely unacceptable to observe how the “autonomous” Planning Authority simply accepts instructions from Government, without so much as a whimper of protest about, if nothing else, inconsistency and arbitrariness, and without asking for a reason for such a strategic and profound change in the Development Brief.”

The NGOs highlighted that the site is surrounded by pristine agricultural land, underlining that sacrificing part of it in the interest of the tourism industry was a bitter pill that had to be swallowed in the economic interest of the country.

“There is no reason why we should accept that permanent residency should encroach on this site. We decry this proposal of the PA as the thin end of a wedge which will gradually see the whole site developed into a permanent residential settlement, with all the infrastructural impacts that a permanent residential community generates.”

The NGOs said that they find it hard to believe that there will only be 25 villas on 9,000 squared metres of land, noting how a promise that there would be no permanent residences was not kept.

“The promise of a top quality tourism development, with a projected €80 million investment, with 200 luxury hotel suites […] has also been broken, after it served its purpose to get the emphyteutic grant in the first place. This much touted tourism project is developing, yet again, into a subtle salami-slicing game, intended to lull the general public into gradually accepting real estate manoeuvres that, in 2014, would have been rejected out of hand.”

The NGOs decried the tactics being used saying that they have been observed elsewhere and called on the government to stop calling the shots in the Planning Authority. They also called on the MPs sitting on the committee to represent the interests of the community as a whole over sectorial interests.

This statement was signed by Din l-Art Ħelwa, Archaeological Society of Malta, Nature Trust – FEE Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth, and BirdLife Malta.