Parliament’s environment committee votes in favour of Ħal Ferħ zoning change

Change in the local plan to enable the Corinthia Group to build residential villas at the Ħal Ferħ tourist complex in Għajn Tuffieħa approved by parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee 

A motion allowing for the construction of permanent residential development at the Ħal Ferħ area has been approved by parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee. 

The main change being proposed to the local plan and the Ħal Ferħ Development Brief is to include permanent residential development in the list of acceptable land uses on the site of the tourist complex. The change in local plan is subject to public consultation.

While the primary land use in terms of gross developable floor space (GDF) will remain for tourism accommodation, the new brief will also establish a “balanced allowance” for residential use.

Speaking during the committee meeting, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia defended government’s intention of seeking the zoning change. 

He said the area is not virgin land, and had already been developed for tourism purposes. 

“It will remain to be so,” he said. 

Farrugia rebutted concerns raised by Moviment Grafitti that such a decision goes against socialist principles of not awarding public land to rich owners. 

“This is a project which will create wealth and work,” Farrugia insisted. 

READ ALSO: Corinthia may build 25 villas at Ħal Ferħ in local plan change proposal

He also raised the argument that government is seeking quality tourism, expressing his belief that such a project would cater for and attract the high-end tourist. 

“The contract will not change, the use will not change,” he said. 

Opposition board members MPs David Thake and Kevin Cutajar were visibly opposed to the change. 

David Thake argued that if company owners will not be able to sustain the development without building residential areas, government should go back to the drawing board and see if others can manage the project better. 

“Why are we not going back to the drawing board and seeing if someone can administer the area without being gifted 25 villas?” he said. 

He also insisted there should be no compromise when dealing with the country’s environment.

“Our country can no longer continue switching goal posts on issues relating to the environment,” he said. 

International Hotel Investments CEO Simon Naudi also spoke during the meeting, insisting the company has the country’s environmental wellbeing at heart. 

“This is not virgin land, it is developed land. There are parameters which need to be followed, and we plan to adhere to them,” he said. 

He also said the proposed residential project will have less impact on the environment, arguing people living in the area would be more inclined to protecting the environment around them. 

Moviment Grafitti activists questioned government’s intention in forwarding the proposal for zoning change. 

“We sacrificed land for economic income through tourism, the project was not carried out, and the owners changed. Now the company wants to build 25 villas on public land – but government is forwarding the proposal. Why?” they said. 

They also inquired over the economic income garnered by such a change. 

“These will be villas built by rich people, for rich people,” they argued. 

The land originally belonged to government-owned Air Malta but was handed back to the government as part of a financial rescue package for the airline under the Gonzi administration. The land was then transferred to the Island Hotels Group for tourist development.

Island Hotels Group was issued a permit in 2013 for an €80 million project of 228 luxury suites, pools, bars and restaurants for a timeshare complex.

However, the company was eventually bought by the Corinthia Group’s International Hotel Investments. No works have ever been carried out on the site yet.

The public consultation runs until 15 December. 

READ ALSO: Corinthia's Ħal Ferħ tourist complex could get residences after government seeks zoning change

More in National