On election eve Wied id-Dies fireworks factory extension approved

The Planning Authority has approved  the extension of an existing fireworks factory located on the side of Wied id-Dies belonging to the Ghaqda Tan-Nar San Bartilmew

The development is being allowed in an area which has been proposed for scheduling as a level 2 and Level 3 Area of Ecological Importance
The development is being allowed in an area which has been proposed for scheduling as a level 2 and Level 3 Area of Ecological Importance

Today, on the eve of the general election, the Planning Authority has approved the extension of an existing fireworks factory located on the side of ‘Wied id-Dies’ belonging to the Ghaqda Tan-Nar San Bartilmew.

The development is being allowed in an area which, according to a case offier report issued in 2014, has been proposed for scheduling as a level 2 and Level 3 Area of Ecological Importance (AEI). 

Before the approval of the new policy on fireworks approved by the government in 2014 the application was recommended for refusal because of the “environmental impacts on the existing natural features of the site”.

But in the latest report the case officer recommends approval noting that the existing factory is covered by a permit issued in 1984 which creates a “commitment” on the rest of the site. Moreover according to the latest report the site is not located within an environmentally or archaeologically sensitive (scheduled) area. This is because the proposed scheduling of the area where the extension is being proposed has not yet been approved. 

But the case officer admits that the area, which lies “just outside” the site boundary, is protected.

Moreover the case officer notes that no habitable structures of more than 100 people are situated within the 183m buffer zone stipulated by Article 4 of Chapter 33 of the Explosives Ordinance Law. The submitted plans indicate that the main stores are located approximately 260m from the Swieqi residential scheme. 

The proposal has also been endorsed by the ad hoc committee appointed by the government to assess the safety issues related to fireworks factories. 

Back in 2013 the Environment Protection Directorate, which has now been replaced by the ERA had objected to the proposed extension due to the site being located along the valley sides of ‘Wied id-Dies’, being characterized by rich maquis vegetation (in particular mature carob trees) and is being proposed for scheduling (level 2 AEI). 

“The proposed requirements, including the scattering of buildings, excavation for wells, sumps, underground shelter, and foreseeable ancillary interventions e.g. formation of access, uprooting of trees for safety reasons, suggest that the proposed development should not be located within this relatively unspoilt and undeveloped landscape.”

The proposed development includes two18m2 stores within the limits of the existing blast walls, an underground shelter covering an area of 7.5m2 and 1.4m deep; three 35 sq.m. workshops, three 14 m2 workshops, one 21m2 mixing room and five blast walls, having a height of 2.16m, and covering a total footprint of 150m2.

How policy was approved 

The new policy issued in 2014 was drafted by a committee chaired by Labour MP Michael Falzon, himself a lawyer of the pyrothecnics organisation.

The  proposals were meant to address a  vacuum in policies concerning such factories, which were previously assessed on the basis of local plans which in most cases overruled such developments in ODZ. 

The policy allows the development of new fireworks factories in buffer zones to ecological sites and on agricultural land.

An ad hoc committee was appointed to conduct risk assessments for new applications for fireworks factories before these are submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA).

The first casualty of the new planning policy was an extension of a factory in an area of Luqa known as Ta’ Hal Salfieni. Thanks to the new policy an application to develop a fireworks factory in Wied ir-Raghab in Gharb that had already been rejected in 2012, was approved in 2016. 

The application was previously rejected because the site falls within an area of high landscape value and is next to an area of ecological importance.

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