‘Lights out for Dwejra stars’, objectors fume at restaurant’s al fresco permit from PA

Permit issued for lights on Dwejra restaurant, which got permit in 2007 disguised as ‘interpretation centre’. Now it will expand again

Photo posted by the Institute of Space Sciences, announcing the EPRT decision on Facebook
Photo posted by the Institute of Space Sciences, announcing the EPRT decision on Facebook

A stunning decision by the Planning Authority’s appeals tribunal has green-lit the extension of a restaurant at Gozo’s Dwejra that has objectors fuming.

The permit will allow the Dwejra restaurant to install lights, tables and chairs on its terrace, and a timber canopy.

But Dwejra, site of the erstwhile Azure window, is designated as a “dark sky heritage area” in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan, meaning that the installation of lighting not related to aerial or maritime navigation should be strongly discouraged.

The restaurant at Dwejra
The restaurant at Dwejra

Indeed in November of 2017 the Planning Authority had refused to issue the permit, arguing that it would have an adverse impact on an important area, while being in conflict with one of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) objectives to safeguard and enhancing biodiversity, cultural heritage, geology and geomorphology.

The list of objectors included the Department of Physics at the University of Malta, Light Pollution Awareness Group, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta and Nature Trust Malta.

But according to PA’s tribunal, the EPRT, the use of artificial light will remain under the scrutiny of the authorities due to conditions imposed in a previous permit issued in 2010.

It also argued that the extension of the existing canopy on the terrace of the restaurants is limited in size and will have no ecological impact.

The Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy of the University of Malta said measurements by ISSA had shown that the night sky at Dwejra was already being adversely affected by the existing lighting, more than doubling in brightness.

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Dwejra planning saga

An application for a restaurant by the same person was rejected by the PA on three separate occasions between 1998 and 2000 – only to be approved on the same place when it was later incorporated into an interpretation centre, approved by PA in March 2007, for the Dwejra heritage park.

Following the March 2008 election, the PA halted the works on the cumbersome structure on the Dwejra ridge, pending further investigations on possible deviations from the approved plans. Subsequently, plans were changed to minimise the impact and were approved in March 2010.

When the authority controversially sanctioned a number of Dwejra boathouses on the eve of the 2008 election, the permit also precluded any use of electricity.