Public domain: disused Coast Road tract excluded despite environmentalists’ request

The decision to restrict public domain status at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq has disappointed environmentalists who had proposed the entire stretch of coastline, from Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq to Pembroke, for public domain status

The stretch of the old Coast Road was once earmarked for a massive car park and private beach
The stretch of the old Coast Road was once earmarked for a massive car park and private beach

The stretch of the disused coast road along l-Għadira s-Safra has not been incorporated into the newly-proposed public domain site at Baħar ic-Cagħaq.

The outcrop of land was previously earmarked for a private beach project, but the application was dropped last January.

The development, proposed by entrepreneur Frankie Grima, foresaw a huge car-park for 346 vehicles – over two levels on both sides of the roundabout – as well as beach facilities on top of the parking area.

The stretch from the old coast road was left redundant after the completion of the road-widening project and the re-alignment of the road in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq.

In 2016, Transport Malta had told MaltaToday that it would be issuing a tender through which the area will be rendered as close to its natural state as possible, by removing asphalt and other modern granular material. Yet no action had ever been taken.

The decision to restrict public domain status at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq has also disappointed environmentalists who had proposed the entire stretch of coastline, from Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq to Pembroke, for public domain status. The proposal to include the 1,845sq.m stretch of land had been made by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar in 2017.

The PA justified its decision by quoting the Attorney General’s advice against including sites which are mostly privately-owned land.

Nearly half the area proposed by environmentalists is under government ownership.

But in its report the Planning Authority says that in accordance with the guidance from the AG, “proposed sites with a majority of their area being subject to private titles, should not be considered for designation as public domain”.

However, l-Għadira s-Safra covers less than 1% of the area proposed for public domain status by FAA, and since the first 15m of coastline is automatically given public domain status, most of l-Għadira s-Safra is already protected.

Moreover, the area proposed for public domain inclusion excludes the part of the old coast road once proposed for the development of private beach. Even this area is also under public ownership, which makes its exclusion even more inexplicable.

The exclusion of the wider Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq-to-Pembroke site is particularly controversial because it includes large tracts of government-owned land, including Pembroke’s Natura 2000 site, which is already designated as a Special Area of Conservation. It also includes the site where Infrastructure Malta is proposing to build the entrance to a tunnel which will serve Paceville’s high-rise developments.

Environmentalists have questioned why this area was excluded. FAA’s Tara Cassar said that even if the AG’s guidance was correct, “there is still no justification for having excluded the government-owned land in Pembroke from the public consultation exercise.”

Also excluded are the Wied Għomor and Wied il-Kbir area in San Gwann originally proposed by former environment minister José Herrera. This was excluded because only 27% of the land area under government ownership.

In 2016, FAA and Friends of the Earth proposed 23 sites for public domain status. An additional site was proposed by Herrera. The Planning Authority’s public consultation concerning these sites issued in 2017, included each and every single site proposed. Over 5,000 people had voiced their support for the proposals.

But following the exercise, only l-Għadira s-Safra and the Domus Romana in Rabat were proposed for public domain status by the State.

The Public Domain Act imposes a burden on the State to protect public domain sites for future generations, safeguarding them against unsustainable development, commercialisation and environmental destruction.

Private property rights are not affected by the law, but owners may have to prove their land was legitimately acquired and registered, clarifying false claims of ownership and situations where public access is abusively blocked.

Moreover, the State cannot freely negotiate public domain sites with third parties (as it can with public land), but must ensure the preservation of public rights for future generations.

Under the law, the foreshore is automatically categorised as public domain while other areas and property, including valleys, squares, woods, forts, nature reserves and cultural artefacts, can be proposed for listing.

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