Developer’s Lija folly in olive tree field gets thumbs-down

Anglu Xuereb took field of olive trees and turned it into ‘excessively formalised’ garden for flower nursery and illegal aviary

The field in question lies alongside Villa Francia, the official residence of the Prime Minister
The field in question lies alongside Villa Francia, the official residence of the Prime Minister

Developer Angelo Xuereb built an illegal aviary outside the development zones, in a part of the Wied Lija valley along Triq il-Mosta and Triq Preziosi. The Environment and Resources Authority wants the Planning Authority to refuse its sanctioning.

The field in question lies alongside Villa Francia, the official residence of the Prime Minister, and is part of a rural stretch that separates the Lija village from the Mosta Road thoroughfare. Xuereb owns the site.

The ERA’s compliance directorate found trenches had been dug in close proximity to the protected olive trees
The ERA’s compliance directorate found trenches had been dug in close proximity to the protected olive trees

The 70sq.m flower nursey also hosts very old olive tree specimens, exhibiting the typical large, gnarled and twisted trunks.

But the ERA says these specimens are of botanical and ecological importance, and their sculptural forms represent high aesthetic and landscape value – indeed not a common sight in Malta.

The ERA’s compliance directorate found trenches had been dug in close proximity to the protected olive trees, and that lights had even been affixed to the protected trees.

Xuereb now wants the PA to sanction his illegal works, which include walls, compacted earth footpaths and ramps, and the flower nursery. His aviary for doves, hens and lovebirds, is being developed around a mature olive tree.

But the ERA said these interventions, together with the aviary, the nursery, the passageways and walls, had resulted in the further take-up of undeveloped land, as well as the excessive formalisation of the site and even the possible clearing of the existing trees’ underbrush.

Objectors expressed concern that the extensive landscaping works, which have already been carried out, suggesting an intention to host functions in this area. “Noting the site’s context and the fact that the site forms part of the valley system; the proposed interventions would lead to change in the site characteristics and formalization of the site and its wider context.”

The ERA is objecting to new trees planted in a straight line along the constructed rubble walls, which formalise the area further.

Xuereb’s architect has argued that the flower nursery and aviary are both removable and temporary structures, which blend in well with the surrounding fields. The beaten earth footpaths are justified to facilitate access for wheelchair users. Additionally, the site has been screened by large trees on Triq il-Mosta, which barely allow the structures to be visible from the street.

The PA’s case officer assessing the application is calling on the PA to turn down the application because the clearing of land and the creation of new footpaths have excessively formalised the site. The Agricultural Advisory Committee also regards the proposed nursery and footpaths as not essential for agriculture.

The PA’s design advisory committee called for the relocation of all structures and pathways to the south-east edge of the site to reduce their visual impact.

The Lija local council is also objecting, arguing that the project would prevent the afforestation of the area as envisaged in the local plans.

In 2004, the PA had turned Xuereb’s plans for an old people’s home on this same site; a small terraced house was later approved in 2012.

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