“Shameful ERA attack on residents and their natural rights” – Cassola

Political activist Arnold Cassola has slammed the Environment and Resource Authority for having “the cheek not only to say that they are comfortable with the nature permit in Balluta Bay, but also to accuse objectors of using the permit to attack the Zammit Tabona jetty plans”. The comments made by Cassola refer to the application for a hop-on hop-off jetty planned in the middle of a popular swimming zone in Balluta.

The Appeal

The Planning Authority in its appeal report “contends that there are no sound planning justifications” in the appeal filed by over 100 objectors to the application for a ferry jetty in the popular swimming area of Balluta. The objectors retain that “ The bay will end up like Sliema Creek. This is one of the very few remaining patches of sea and coastline which is open to the public for recreational purposes and which has not been commercialised”. The contested proposal to build a pontoon at Balluta Bay was approved in March by the Planning Authority, one month after the authority indicated that it would be rejecting it. The approval would result in the St Julian’s water polo club building a temporary pontoon at the bay to be used for a hop-on, hop-off ferry service by the Zammit Tabonas, owners of the Fortina Group and the Captain Morgan ferries. NGOs and the residents had set up a vociferous opposition to the project.

The Objectors’ position

The objectors have now filed an appeal to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal against the approval of the application. The reasons raised by the objectors include:

  • A breach of the Local Plan since the site is defined as a Coastal Area with Leisure Use. Balluta Bay is not indicated in local Plan policy as a potential yachting and berthing site and such a development would adversely affect the area.
  • At present, there is no permit approval from the Maritime Authority.
  • The impact of a structure on the seabed and bathing water quality has not been assessed adequately.
  • The impact on the seabed and marine life has not been properly assessed.
  • The ferry travelling constantly through bathing waters will create pollution and danger to bathers in what is a popular swimming and bathing spot. areas.
  • The application also goes against approved planning policy since the sea and the coast are public domain and any development requires a resolution of the House of Representatives for the development to take place. This has not been done.
  • The proposed site is in an area which is especially prone to storm damage in winter.

The PA’s position

In reply, the Planning Authority rebutted these claims. It said that while Balluta may not be included in the policies related to yachting and berthing, it does not mean that it is excluded since “the general policy direction is to ‘encourage the development of water-borne public transport facilities’”. Underlining the approval of the proposal by Transport Malta, the Planning Authority saw no incongruence between a hop-on hop-off ferry and the adjacent bathing uses. Indeed, the PA said that “the proposed pontoon is a distance away from the identified swimmer zone”. Neither did it see a negative effect on the seabed caused by pollution, citing the approval by ERA of a benthic (seabed) survey: “As noted in the studies, no adverse effects are anticipated”.

Cassola reacts: shameful ERA attack on residents and their natural rights

Political activist Prof Arnold Cassola wrote:

“The Environment and Resources Authority has had the cheek not only to say that they are comfortable with the nature permit in Balluta Bay but also to accuse objectors of using the permit to attack the Zammit Tabona jetty plans.

“ERA should be ashamed of itself. 

“Whoever drew up the Planning Authority report (here attached), has he ever been on the spot? 

“Does the PA know that hundreds of people swim in the Balluta sea?

“Does the PA know that Balluta Bay obtained the highest marks for its bathing quality by the environmental health inspectors (“In the north, Mellieha Bay, Mistra Bay, St Paul’s Bay, Golden Bay, Riviera Bay and Anchor Bay all achieved full marks – as did St George’s Bay, Spinola Bay, Balluta Bay and Sliema)?

 “Does the PA know that a catamaran entering 21 times a day in Balluta is going to ruin the bathing quality of the sea, reducing it to harbour water standards?

 “Does the PA know that the diesel fuels and anti-fouling materials polluting the jetty area do not stay static but, through winds and currents, easily move into the designated swimming zone twenty metres away?

“Does the PA know that, with a catamaran entering twenty-one times a day, the risk of swimmers being hit by the vessel become high?

“Does the PA know that the Catamaran’s propellors will be causing turbidity in the waters thus endangering the large patches of protected Posidonia in the Balluta sea?

 “Does the PA know that the Neptunes bus stop on the main road had been removed because of the traffic jams it was causing, and now the proposal is for double-deckers to bring over tourists … and let them get off there, thus blocking the flow of traffic? 

 “Rather than shamefully attacking residents for defending their natural rights, ERA should concentrate its efforts on defending the water quality and the Posidonia meadows in Balluta.      With its present attitude, ERA is instead actively contributing to the definite killing of the environment in the area.