Almost 500 requests to extend building zones could change Gozo’s idyllic vistas

The 497 submissions in Gozo to the Planning Authority are seeking permission to extend the development zones on parcels of land kept outside the boundaries

 

Two major residential developments are being proposed in Marsalforn – not least a tourism complex in the pristine Qbajjar by the salt pens. Another project in Qbajjar foresees “up-market, fully detached, two-storey villas” on 18 plots of land off Triq is-Salini
Two major residential developments are being proposed in Marsalforn – not least a tourism complex in the pristine Qbajjar by the salt pens. Another project in Qbajjar foresees “up-market, fully detached, two-storey villas” on 18 plots of land off Triq is-Salini

A total of 497 submissions have been made in Gozo alone, seeking permission to extend the development zones on parcels of land kept outside the boundaries.

The submissions propose the addition of new land to the development zones, ranging from minor adjustments on the 2006 extension of building zones, to extravagant residential and touristic projects on pristine lands.

The proposals were made in 2013, after the new Labour government started a revision of the local plans last approved in 2006 – the year that development zones were extended by the Nationalist government. A public consultation exercise was held to propose revisions.

A MaltaToday analysis of the Gozo submissions – tabled by planning minister Ian Borg in reply to a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP Chris Said – offers an indication of the massive pressure from hundreds of requests, on government to extend development zones.

They include proposals to extend rural hamlets where residential development is allowed within certain limits – 51 demands were made to relax building heights, 13 of which inside seaside town Xlendi; while 18 were made to remove properties from urban conservation areas, where heights are limited.

Major projects that would lie outside development zones at present include a “natural extension to Nadur” – namely, a low-rise tourist development set on 30,000sq.m of land incorporating the Kenuna tower, proposed by Ray Fenech on behalf of Tumas Group. The area beneath the Kenuna tower was recently chosen as one of the entrances for the tunnel connecting Malta and Gozo.

In Qala, a luxury retirement complex was proposed by Paul Scicluna on the road to Hondoq ir-Rummien, on an area of approximately 18.8 tumoli (2.11ha). The site enjoys panoramic views towards the southeast beyond Hondoq, across the strait and onto Comino.

Two major residential developments are being proposed in Marsalforn – not least a tourism complex in the pristine Qbajjar by the salt pens. Another project in Qbajjar foresees “up-market, fully detached, two-storey villas” on 18 plots of land off Triq is-Salini.

The PA received 858 submissions from Gozo during a consultation on new local plans carried out in 2013. Of these, 497 included proposals to extend development zones
The PA received 858 submissions from Gozo during a consultation on new local plans carried out in 2013. Of these, 497 included proposals to extend development zones

Karkanja owner Euchar Vella, who did not propose any particular site in the area, had proposed a masterplan for the Xwejni coast. Another proposal involves accommodation facilities in Xwejni to cater for diving tourism. An extension has also been proposed for the Calypso hotel in Marsalforn.

The Xwejni coastline has long been identified for tourism development. Back in the 1960s the Corinthia group had identified Xwejni for a hotel but the project fell through after the government refused to subsidise the project.

The owners of the Grotta discotheque off Xlendi, which was partly developed illegally, have also proposed an outdoor entertainment area opposite the popular discotheque.

Other proposals include the extension of the Cornocopia hotel on ODZ land in Xaghra.

A caravan and camping site was proposed in Tal-Qsajjam in Xlendi. Another camping and caravan site was proposed by Karkanja Ltd in Tal-Kriwis in Ghasri.

Other proposals include the designation of land at Ta’ Sanap in Munxar for a fireworks factory, and allocating land for a petrol station between Victoria, Nadur and Xaghra.

Owners of small plots, some of whom complained of being unfairly treated when development zones were last extended in 2006, made the majority of submissions. In some instances they complained that their exclusion from the widening of development zones was politically motivated and meant to “accommodate people living across the road”.

A number of demands were made by people who purchased their lands from the Church under the impression that the land could be developed.

Others justified the inclusion of their plots, claiming that these could have been developed under the notorious Building Development Act (BDA) enacted by former public works minister Lorry Sant in 1983. Many of these plots were excluded from development zones approved in 1988 and 2006.

Others cited demographic arguments, arguing that young couples in small localities like Fontana – a small village that practically forms part of Victoria – were being forced to find accommodation elsewhere.

The Ghasri local council supported this view, arguing that “land for residential development in Ghasri is very limited” and “younger generations have nowhere to acquire property in Ghasri.” Therefore, the council concluded that consideration should be given to the extension of development zones.

Some owners begged for their land to be included in development zones, lamenting that they could not afford to buy a home elsewhere.
The owners of the Astra Theatre in Victoria, insisted that there was no justification why this 50-year-old building was still partly listed outside development zones – namely the theatre hall and backstage.

Only a couple of public-spirited proposals were made in the consultation process: a call to protect the area between Calypso Cave and Ramla Bay, and a buffer zone to protect the Gordan lighthouse in Ghasri from light pollution.

The local plan saga

The local plan process, which will include new development boundaries, was meant to be concluded by 2015 but was postponed until after the 2017 general election.

Former parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon had justified tweaking the 2006 boundaries by accusing the former government of having been “creative” in including certain lands, but not others. No progress was made under successor Deborah Schembri. The matter is now the responsibility of transport minister Ian Borg.

The government is under intense pressure by some landowners left out of the 2006 extension, to have their lands included in development zones – a move that would appreciate the value of their land.

But the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) only foresees “minor adjustments” to development boundaries “whilst ensuring that the overall result does not constitute a significant change”.

In a bid to achieve a zero net loss of non-developable land (ODZ) – and therefore not be accused of enlarging development zones to appease owners who missed out in 2006 – the government has hinted that it will remove some of its own lands from the development zones to accommodate private owners. In this way the ‘tweaking’ will be compensated by redrawing the ODZ boundaries elsewhere, but doubts remain whether enough publicly-owned ODZ land exists to offset the demands by landowners to have their land included in development schemes.

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