Tourism minister lashes out against ‘rape’ of Għeriexem valley

The PA has issued an enforcement order against an illegal paddock in the Għeriexem valley, set between Mtarfa and Rabat, and scheduled for its scenic value as an Area of High Landscape Value

Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, whose portfolio includes valley management and afforestation projects, has lashed out at illegalities in the Għeriexem valley in Rabat following a story published on MaltaToday documenting illegalities and future developments.

“It is not acceptable that the valley is first raped, then works continue despite an enforcement order is issued, and then we pretend that everything can be sanctioned and forgiven… Where is the love for the environment which sustains us and how are we protecting future generations?”

Farrugia Portelli called on Rabat residents and the local council to unite against illegalities outside the development zones, as they had previously done to oppose the development of a hotel in Saqqjja.

The Tourism Minister’s status on Facebook came in the wake of a report on MaltaToday about an illegally-developed horse paddock and plans for a brand new dwelling with a swimming pool instead of an old reservoir.

The Planning Authority had issued an enforcement order against the illegal paddock on a field in the Għeriexem valley, which is set between Mtarfa and Rabat, and is scheduled for its scenic value as an Area of High Landscape Value.

In a reply on her own Facebook post, environment minister Aaron Farrugia addressed Farrugia-Portelli, saying he had explained to the minister that these works had been stopped but that the law allows applicants to sanction works after they would have been carried out first.

Changes to planning laws in 2011 had banned the regularisation of odz illegalities. But in 2015 under the new labour government the law was changed again to allow the pa to sanction odz illegalities.

The illegalities consisted of the levelling of the soil and the dumping of inert material and stones, as well as the construction of a rubble boundary wall, the construction of a stone oven, a metal fence, a timber paddock, and the change of use of the agricultural field into a horse-holding site

Subsequently, the owner applied to sanction the illegalities.

But the application now foresees the construction of horse shelters and ancillary facilities, a reservoir and pump chamber, the removal of the metal fencing and the construction of rubble walls to delineate the property.

The Ramblers Association is objecting to the request, insisting that sanctioning these works in retrospect will only serve to reward and encourage the prevailing cowboy attitude of “build first, get it approved later”.

“The applicant should be fined for the works already carried out and ordered to restore the area,” the association said, saying the proposed development was totally incongruous with its surroundings. “Għeriexem valley serves as a significant buffer between the two urban settlements of Mtarfa and Rabat; it preserves the identity of these two separate historic localities and should be retained as such.”

But reacting, owner Keith Balzan Gera claims that he had bought the field for former racehorses slated for culling, and that he had spent thousands of euros to clear the field from debris.

Balzan Gera has also told MaltaToday that following the enforcement notice issued by the PA he has stopped any works on the site complaining that a photo published on MaltaToday also includes surrounding plots for which he is not responsible.

He also claims that stones deposited on site were meant to be used in the construction of a small boundary wall left on site after the Planning Authority intervened to stop the works.

“Just because a couple of wankers kept reporting me… I had to stop and the place is a mess not thanks to me but thanks to whoever reported me,” he claimed on Facebook.

This is not the only application threatening the Għeriexem valley.

Another application, presented by Alan Pace, foresees the demolition of an existing farmhouse to replace it with a 120sq.m dwelling with a swimming pool and rubble wall to border the site.

The ERA has warned that the construction of a new, modern dwelling with a pool and parking space will result in an adverse impact on the character and environmental quality of the immediate rural scenery. “Approval of this application would lead to urbanization and formalization of this area ODZ, thereby contributing to the overall environmental degradation of the wider rural character.”

The 1968 survey sheets show that the only structure present on site back then was a 43sq.m water reservoir which is now disused. Subsequently a building was added to the reservoir.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage is also objecting to the application, noting with concern the intensification of development inside a relatively pristine cultural landscape. “The proposed development is incongruous with the existing context and cannot be favourably considered from a cultural heritage point of view.”

Works on the widening of the existing road to accommodate a promenade are currently underway after a permit was issued despite strong objections by the Environment and Resources Authority.

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