Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando was in defying mood yesterday when he assisted for a press conference organised by Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) at Mistra Bay to condemn the decision by MEPA to grant a permit for an open-air party in his field which was scheduled to be held late yesterday evening.
A few minutes after the press conference, which was held in the street above the bay, exactly next to Pullicino Orlando’s field, the Nationalist MP appeared at the end of his field to “assist” for the press conference addressed by AD Chairperson and candidate Arnold Cassola with a cup of tea.
The field belonging to the temperamental MP had been mired in political controversy last year after Labour revealed that Pullicino Orlando wanted to develop a nightclub on that site despite the fact that the field was protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 programme.
Carmel Cacopardo, the party’s spokesperson for sustainable development, explained how the permit that been issued by MEPA despite the fact that the site was protected under the Habitats’ Directive.
“Eleven months ago, on 24 June 2008, the MEPA Board had withdrawn the development permit for the same site because it was not compatible with the Habitats’ Directive,” Cacopardo declared.
“Eleven months later, that activity is still not compatible with the Habitats Directive,” Cacopardo added.
He said the Habitats’ Directive does not allow any development on protected site except that which is required for the management of the site. “This means that even its management has to be planned.”
In fact, government declared a number of sites as Areas of Special Conservation and Areas under Natura 2000, which also falls under the Habitats’ Directive, however no management plan had been drawn up for these sites.
“This is one of the areas where green jobs can be created, with which we can undertake proper maintenance of these sites and manage them,” Cacopardo added.
There were “at least two sites covered by the Habitats’ Directive: Buskett and Paradise Bay, where events which are hot compatible with the Habitats’ Directive are held periodically,” he explained.
Cacopardo said he will write to European Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas to open an inquiry about this violation of the Habitats’ Directive.
On his part, AD candidate Arnold Cassola insisted the area where the activity was going to be held was a special conservation area “and no disturbance could be allowed, including noise pollution.”
He explained there was a political responsibility for “both by the Environment Minister as well by MEPA, that issued the permit. Although the permit was not issued by him, the minister also has to shoulder the political responsibility,” Cassola insisted.
“Who will shoulder the political responsibility of first signing and joining the EU and then permit such things to happen?” he asked.
“On the one hand you have a party which is claiming that they are the real greens and was no need for the Green Party, but in reality it was only us who raise these issues,” Cassola said in a not-so-veiled barb at the Nationalists.
“It it had not been for the green NGOs and Maltese civil society which act as our watchdogs, then they would plough on like a bulldozer with everything.”
Cassola described Pullicino Orlando’s activity in Mistra in support of Nationalist MEP hopeful Alex Perici Calascione as “a clear political challenge when Prime Minister Gonzi knows that this situation embarrassed him a lot in the last General Elections.
“Whoever is purposefully organising a mass activity here is clearly challenging everybody,” the AD chief insisted.
MEPA reaction MEPA yesterday said that the Natura 2000 network established by the Habitats and Birds Directives was aimed at protecting priority habitats and species and that it was “incorrect to state that the only activities that may be carried out in such areas are those necessary for their management.”
“The Habitats Directive clearly states that the authorities must not permit activities or development that could threaten the integrity of the sites and, in particular, the species or habitats for which they were designated. All other activities may be permitted.”
The authority said that applying AD’s interpretation would lead to making all beaches practically no go areas since they were all special areas of conservation.
The permit for the Mistra party was also subject to a number of conditions and was issued after MEPA ascertained that there would be no negative impact on the priority species and habitats, against a bank guarantee of €10,000.
In a reply later on in the day, Cacopardo said the directive made it clear that activities within sites designated as Special Areas of Conservation had to be compatible with the site’s conservation objectives.