Environment Resources Authority calls for refusal of Ta’ Cenc development

20 years after first being proposed, the villas and a hotel extension proposed for an ecologically sensitive area of Ta' Cenc seems to be heading towards a refusal

james
James Debono
30 December 2016, 3:46pm
ERA expressed its concern that the development may impact on the Short toed lark population
ERA expressed its concern that the development may impact on the Short toed lark population
20 years after being first proposed in 1996, the proposed Ta’ Cenc development consisting of villas and a hotel extension in an ecologically sensitive area seems to be heading towards a refusal. 

This is because an official report by the Environment and Resources Authority is calling for the refusal of the latest downscaled version of the project.

The downscaled Ta’ Cenc development proposed last year is still unacceptable, according to the Environment and Resources Authority, which has pointed out that the project is in breach of the Habitats and Birds Directives due to its impact on bird species in the area. Previous version of the development had been shot down by ERA’s predecessor; the  Environment Protection Directorate and by the Planning Directorate. 

ERA expressed its concern that the development may impact on the Short toed lark population, a species that is already in decline due to changes in its habitat.

The latest plans include 15 new villas (down from 36 villas proposed in 2009 and from the original 57 proposed in 1996) overlooking the picturesque and protected Mgarr ix-Xini, and a hotel extension in the vicinity of the existing hotel consisting of 118 new guest rooms. These plans were rejected in a local referendum organised by the Sannat local council, after the council failed to take a stance. 

According to ERA the three main developments namely the extension of the hotel, the development of an interpretation centre to the east of the hotel and the development of 15 villas on the east of the plateau, will “cumulatively result in a significant impact on the several aspects of the ecological mosaic in the Ta’ Cenc area.  

Of particular concern is the possible habitat degradation around the fringes of the development, noise and light emissions and the uptake of undeveloped land.

The local plan specifically bans villas overlooking Mgarr ix-Xini but foresees an extension of the hotel. But in 2008 Ta’ Cenc area was scheduled as Special Protection Area according to the EU’s Birds Directive and as a Special Area of Conservation according to the EU’s Habitats Directive. Significantly ERA has also objected to the extension of the hotel. While noting that hotel facilities may require an upgrade, it expressed concern on the “substantial intensification of urban development in an area which is not only located ODZ but also within a Special Area of Conservation.”

An environmental impact assessment had concluded that the development would not have a significant long-term effect on the conservation of the Natura 2000 site, if adequate measures are taken to mitigate the impact of the development. But ERA insisted a number of impacts cannot be mitigated by any measure and that in general the development would negatively effect the openness and remote character for which Ta’ Cenc is renowned.

ERA does not have a final say and a final decision still has to be taken by the Planning Board. A case officer report still has to be prepared by the Planning Directorate and the PA board may still overrule a negative recommendation by the case officer.  

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...