[WATCH] Labour mayor on Ħondoq: now State must expropriate land for national park

Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg says that the Labour administration must walk the talk on its commitment to green areas and expropriate Ħondoq ir-Rummien so that it turns it into a natural park

Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg says the Labour administration should now expropriate the land at Ħondoq ir-Rummien
Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg says the Labour administration should now expropriate the land at Ħondoq ir-Rummien
Labour mayor on Ħondoq: now State must expropriate land for national park

An emotional Paul Buttigieg said that he was in tears upon hearing the definitive appeals judgement that sealed the fate of the massive tourism development that had threatened his beloved Ħondoq ir-Rummien for the last two decades.

“I feel an enormous load that has been lifted off me as well as off my family,” Buttigieg said, whose campaign against the designation of Ħondoq for the tourism development has been ongoing since 2006.

“It was then that the Nationalist administration had shifted plans for the area’s afforestation, to a touristic-marine project... we always asked, why had they changed this designation?” Buttigieg said in a reference to the local plans of the time that have remained unchanged since then.

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Now he wants the Labour Party to back his call to make government expropriate the land at Ħondoq ir-Rummien, rendering it public domain and turned into a nature reserve or national park.

“Gozo has no national park,” Buttigieg said when asked about the potential stewardship of such a project by Project Green, the authority entrusted with a €700 million budget for the development of urban green areas.

“Government should be proceeding with the expropriation of Ħondoq... the only reason the area has never been developed is only thanks to the local council and environmentalists, as well as the press that supported us.”

Buttigieg, a Labour mayor who has been outspoken against over-development in Gozo and is also against the development of an underwater tunnel connecting the islands, said he felt his party should walk the talk on Ħondoq.

“There is support from Labour – but now we must see action, so that Ħondoq is expropriated in the same it had been back in the 1960s for quarrying activities, and for it to become a national park.”

But Buttigieg also thinks that the Labour government has yet to shake off the influence of business lobbies and the developers’ industry on policy-making.

“Indeed this influence has to be cut down within the Labour Party,” he says. “I am in nobody’s inner circle. But as a Labour Party member mine is genuine advice: we cannot keep bowing down to the influence of developers. Look at the problems we are seeing. Who is benefiting anyway from the import of cheap labour? And who is becoming rich anyway on these projects... certainly not us.”

Expropriation potential

The owners of the land at Ħondoq ir-Rummien had told government ministers they will relinquish their rights to the land they once wanted developed into a massive 200-yacht marina with hotel and villas, for €17 million. 

Gozo Prestige Holidays, now owned by the heirs of Victor Bajada, had sent the Labour administration a letter hoping to discuss a resolution for the sale of the land to the State – to resolve the impasse on their Ħondoq plans.

The company originally acquired the land from the Dominican Order for just €23,000 (Lm10,000) in 1988, at a full sale price of €1.5 million should the company be awarded a development permit for its yacht marina.

At the rate of valuation, Gozo Prestige Holidays would stand to have a return of 11 times over its original purchase price.

The company is being represented by lawyer Carmelo Galea, who forms part of the company that took control of vast swathes of land in Qala and Nadur through a feudal title claimed through the lineage of the Stagno Navarra family. 

In the communication to the government, Galea attached a valuation by architect Edward Bencini of €17 million due to its unique siting for high-end tourism, and the reference to tourism development made in the Gozo & Comino Local Plan, tagging it at a price of €400 per square metre on the open market. The total site is over 42,000 square metres. 

Galea had insisted that while the land was developable under the terms of the Gozo & Comino Local Plan of 2006, the company could consider requesting some form of financial compensation for the expenses it incurred throughout its unsuccessful planning saga and the loss of value to the land.