NGOs express concern at 'illegal' Fomm ir-Rih tourist complex proposal

The 1,666sq.m proposal will include 16 large suites, a reception, kitchen and breakfast area on ODZ land in a pristine rural hamlet 

The area being proposed for development
The area being proposed for development

Environmental NGOs expressed "grave concern" at a proposal to turn the Formm ir-Rih rural hamlet into a tourist complex under the guise of an agro-tourism project.

The groups insisted that such a proposal is "blatantly illegal" since the hamlet in question is a Grade 3 rural settlement, enjoying the highest protection at law. 

The tourist accomodation project is being proposed by Paul Vella's Ballut Blocks and plans a built-up footprint of 1,666sq.m. As proposed, the development will include 16 large suites, of variable size between 30sq.m and 80sq.m, a reception, kitchen and breakfast area over 329sq.m and a 50sq.m swimming pool. All buildings will be limited in height to one floor. Plans envisage the growing of a large number of trees to screen the development.

READ MORE: Fomm ir-Rih hamlet eyed for tourism project

The NGOs said they were very skeptical about the "agro-tourism" intentions of such a project, insisting that surrounding improvements to the area to accomodate the development will likely lead to damage that is worse than what it looks on paper.

"The policy also does not allow accommodation intended for agro-tourism to be parcelled up into the 16 or so individual suites being proposed, and requires the development to be compatible with the rural character of the area. The demolition of certain vernacular structures and the construction of 11 individual buildings containing large expanses of glass, is clearly not a project that can be considered to retain the character of this rural hamlet," the NGOs said on a statement on Thursday.

They argued that the road leading to the site is extremely narrow, buttressed by very ancient, original dry-stone walls, with very few passing points, making it virtually impassable for heavy construction traffic. "This will inevitably lead to an ‘upgrade’ of roads in the area, making the damage much worse than appears on paper," they said.

They added that such a site being committed to development will set a precedent for future developments on similar sites that enjoy environmental protection to make way for seemingly agro-touristic purposes. 

"Fomm ir-Rih is one of the unspoilt gems of the Maltese islands and nearby development is bound to compromise the landscape of this beautiful natural and cultural site.

"The view from the historic Victoria Lines running to the Southeast of the proposed development also risks being marred by the resulting eyesore," the NGOs said.

They insisted that such development projects on similar sites should never be considered, "given the rampant overdevelopment that the Planning Authority has permitted over the last few years."

The Ramblers' Association of Malta, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA), Nature Trust Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Din L-Art Helwa, Futur Ambjent Wieħed and The Archaeological Society of Malta penned the statement. 

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