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Matthew Vella

A quarry for the elderly

Paul Fenech • In an island characterised by division, the fact that three Local Councils – those of Swieqi, San Gwann and St Julian’s – have come together to fight an application, signals the damage that this project would cause.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
4 May 2016, 2:45pm
Photomontage of proposed development. The solar panels shown in this computer aided rendition are no longer being proposed
Photomontage of proposed development. The solar panels shown in this computer aided rendition are no longer being proposed
The problem with policies and regulations is that no matter how positive they seem, it is hard to fully imagine their implications. One such policy regulates the rehabilitation of quarries. A positive measure, and yet its interpretation is being skewed beyond reason.

Rehabilitation is “the act of restoring something to its original state”. Indeed, MEPA’s Code of Practice for Quarry Working and Restoration quotes agriculture as the principle form of quarry restoration in Malta. Such sites offer the potential of accommodating inert construction waste which forms the bulk of our ever-growing Mount Maghtab. This infill would be overlaid by soil, to provide valuable agricultural land.

Similarly, quarry rehabilitation projects available for public study in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia all point to the rehabilitation of these scars on the landscape by turning them into recreational parks, fens, lakes, water-sports facilities or reservoirs. So why Malta the only country to propose the building of housing in quarries, when MEPA warned that quarries may not be suited for agriculture “due to the high temperatures and solar radiation reflected off the quarry faces”.

In the case to be decided at the Planning Authority today, it is not just ordinary housing that is being proposed to be built in the quarry at Wied Ghomor, but a far more sensitive home for elderly people.

Like the rest of the Western world, Maltese health authorities have taken the decision to provide care for all but the most infirm in the community, rather than in large institutions or ghettos for the aged. Malta’s National Health Systems Strategy 2014-2020 declares: “There will be increased focus on empowering and encouraging communities to become more involved in the provision of informal care in the community and as near as possible to where people are residing and working.” As the demand for care of dementia patients increases, it is relevant that “Good dementia environments are small-scale settings that subdivide the population into small clusters of 8 to 15 residents”.

A home for the elderly in a quarry violates what has been stipulated above. Instead of remaining active in their community, close to their families, friends and parishes, the elderly residents would be completely isolated. Far from being a “setting which is most suitable to their needs”.

The home would be sunk into a quarry that would act as an unbearably hot suntrap in summer with the sun’s radiation reflected off the quarry walls. In winter it would be dark and damp as the sun’s low trajectory would only reach the bottom of the quarry for a few hours a day.

What professional studies have been undertaken to justify such a development? This proposal effectively puts decisions re the care of the elderly in the hands of developers rather than doctors or medical design consultants.

Just as important is the impact of such a project on the existing residents of the area. This is no ‘ordinary’ valley as in 1999 MEPA gave it extra protection as an Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance. Being composed of permeable lower coralline limestone this valley is very important in allowing the replenishment of the mean sea level aquifer. Any buildings here would impede the replenishment of this aquifer.

Besides the fact that the valley slopes are identified as having scientific importance in terms of hydrogeology and geomorphology MEPA also describes them as having significant aesthetic value. The construction of a large complex within this valley would set a precedent that would inevitably lead to the issuing of permits for other buildings. Swieqi has already lost other valleys to development and the issuing of this permit would hasten the approval of pending planning applications for other ODZ developments in Wied Ghomor and Wied is-Dis at Swieqi and Madliena, destroying the unique natural beauty and open spaces left in the area.

A complex for the elderly would of necessity generate considerable traffic in an ODZ area, with thousands of extra vehicles entering and exiting the ODZ valley every day due to the movement of staff, services and supplies, residents and their visitors. This would require a widening of the valley’s very narrow roads and create more air and noise pollution. 

In an island characterised by division, the fact that three Local Councils – those of Swieqi, San Gwann and St Julian’s – have come together to fight an application, signals the damage that this project would cause.

In his Workers’ Day speech, the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declared that over the coming two years his Government must show its environmental credentials and ensure that no ODZ land would be taken up. The Planning Authority falls directly within the remit of the Prime Minister therefore eNGOs and the area’s Local Councils call on the Planning Authority to be consistent with the Prime Minister's commitment and protect the interests of the community at large.

Paul Fenech
Swieqi

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.