Quarry extension foreseen in mysterious Wied Incita quarry application

A 2018 planning application to extend the Wied Incita quarry between Zebbug and Attard by 12,500 square metres remains shrouded in secrecy, being listed as an 'incomplete' application on the Planning Authority’s website

A 2018 planning application to extend the Wied Incita quarry between Zebbug and Attard by 12,500 square metres remains shrouded in secrecy, being listed as an “incomplete” application on the Planning Authority’s website.

But a screening report by the Environment and Resources Authority indicates that the extension will take place on land already used for the storage of infill material, in the absence of a planning permit.

The quarry belongs to Bilom, a major player in the construction industry.

The omission from the PA’s public information is the result of a new policy adopted last year, through which the regulator blocked public access to scores of applications deemed to be still “incomplete” and awaiting the submission of all documentation.

The Wied Incita quarry was identified last week for the disposal of construction waste following an agreement reached between the government and operators to fix the price of dumping to some €12 per tonne, after roadworks contractor were refusing to pay higher market rates.

Added to the reluctance of quarry owners to open up for construction waste at lower rates, this created a situation where developers had nowhere to dump demolition and excavation waste.

The issue came to a head last week when Infrastructure Malta ordered all roadworks to stop until a solution is found.

The opening of the Wied Inċita quarry was met with severe criticism from former AD chairperson Arnold Cassola, who accused government of gifting the quarry operator millions of euros despite an ongoing court case against the owner.

Bilom plans a “proposed extension” of the existing quarry for “quarrying purposes”, the excavation of up to 20.7m above sea level, ‘infilling’ of the existing quarried area and the construction of a garage for quarry-related vehicles and machinery, which will have the same area as another building to be demolished.

The proposal also refers to the construction of a rubble wall and landscaping and the relocation of the access for heavy vehicles “to reduce nuisance to residential area”, the construction of an internal road and installation of on-site temporary “container” office.

Until Tuesday, MaltaToday could not access the documentation related to environmental impact studies due to an “internal server error” on the ERA website, but the problem was later resolved following queries by this newspaper.

In its September 2019 screening report, the ERA expressed its  concern that the area identified for the quarry’s extension “has effectively already become part of the quarry and seems to be used as storage for machinery and infill material”.

ERA reiterated its objection to the practice of “committing a site for development in the absence of a permit and then applying for retroactive sanctioning”.

The ERA also expressed concern with the extent of the site boundary of the quarry when compared to that outlined by the South Malta Local Plan and a police permit. While the extension to the east has no significant impacts, the natural areas to the west and north boundary of the site form part of the main Wied Incita watercourse and are therefore “integral to the functioning of the valley, as well as to the conservation of the valley ecology, geomorphology and landscape”.

“Before consideration of any further extensions, it is necessary to ensure adequate safeguards against additional damage to the valley system. Furthermore, the natural areas within the site that form part of the Wied Incita watercourse should be restored to their pristine state and excluded from the quarrying area,” the ERA said.

The report concludes that before any consideration of any further extensions, it is necessary to ensure adequate safeguards against additional damage to the valley system.

But the ERA also hinted that if its recommendations are adhered to the proposal can be recommended favourably, mainly because the area is already dominated by mineral extraction, and the proposed extraction area is considered “marginal”.

Enforcement measures

The quarry is in fact the subject of litigation filed by the Attard local council against the ministry and others, in which it is claimed, amongst other things, that the Wied Inċita quarry site is being illegally used for dumping of inert waste.

The council had asked the courts to declare the structures already built on the site as having been built illegally, hold the defendants responsible for the damage caused to the valley and order them to stop dumping waste and expanding their footprint.

Back in 2016, Bilom had proposed the development of a huge industrial park for small and medium-sized enterprises equipped with an overlying solar farm over 158,000 square metres on the site currently taken up by quarries in Wied Incita, Attard. 

The development also foresaw the construction of a family recreational park and a retail outlet, all set on the 158,000 square metre tract equivalent in area to 22 football fields. But the application was withdrawn after strong opposition from Attard and Zebbug residents.

Residents contend that the quarrying is too close to the residential area. Residents argue that since their dwellings are approved by the Planning Authority, then it implies at both law and policy that the surroundings should be compatible with the residential nature of the area.

The site has been subjected to a number of enforcement orders dating back to the 1990s but the illegalities in question have been removed according to details found on the PA’s public information system.

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