Ħondoq project is dead, as environmentalists celebrate court judgement

Appeals Court upholds planning appeals tribunal’s rejection of controversial Ħondoq ir-Rummien marina project, sealing its fate after 22-year process

The Court of Appeal has confirmed the rejection of an appeal by the developers in the ongoing saga at Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo.

After 22 years, the Appeals Court upheld the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal’s reconfirmed rejection from the Planning Authority board of the Ħondoq ir-Rummien project.

The environmental tussle pitted environmentalists and locality mayor Paul Buttigieg against developers who wanted to turn a disused quarry into a mega development – a veritable new village located outside development zones.

The Appeals Court also confirmed that Buttigieg’s inclusion in the planning appeal had not constituted a conflict of interest.

Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg at a demonstration at Ħondoq ir-Rummien (Photo: Moviment Graffitti)
Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg at a demonstration at Ħondoq ir-Rummien (Photo: Moviment Graffitti)

“The judgement confirms that the yacht marina and tourism village will not take place,” an elated Buttigieg said. “It is now time for the next step, and for government to ensure public access and enjoyment of Ħondoq to become permanent.”

Moviment Graffitti welcomed the decision, saying it will insist that Ħondoq be given the highest form of protection so that egregious projects of this sort no longer be proposed.

Buttigieg and civil society activists were represented in their legal battle by environmtenalist lawyer Claire Bonello.

The project was to include a deluxe 5-star hotel with 110 bedrooms, 25 self-catering villas, 60 apartments serviced by the hotel, 203 apartments, 1,249 underground parking spaces, and village centre – which was to include a church and shops. 

Plans for a yacht marina for approximately 100 to 150 berths were included in the original application but later dropped by the developer in plans which were not accepted by the Planning Authority as these were presented after the publication of a case officer report recommending the rejection of the project. 

The 104,000 square metre mega-development by Gozo Prestige Hotels was unanimously rejected by the Planning Authority board in June 2016.

The Ħondoq development was deemed by the Planning Directorate to be in breach of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development as it constituted “a dense urban development” in a “coastal rural area”.

It was also in breach of the SPED’s vision of Gozo as an “ecological island”.

The developers had appealed the refusal, however, arguing that their right to a fair hearing had been denied, as they were given only 15 days to prepare for the PA hearing, leaving them with insufficient time to bring forward the experts who had authored studies in support of the application.

The draft for the Gozo local plan, issued for public consultation in 2002, made no reference to tourist development in Ħondoq.  But the Gozo local plan, approved in 2006, facilitated the approval of the project, referring to “tourism and marine related uses” and “sensitively designed, high quality and low density buildings that blend into the landscape”. Ħondoq was also identified as the site of a “destination port” – a euphemism for a yacht marina.  

The local plan has not been changed since although the project was still rejected for being in breach of the SPED objectives.  Both major political parties are now opposed to the project. And while the Nationalist Party has proposed changing the local plans and compensating the owners, the Labour Party included a commitment against the Ħondoq development in its manifesto.