Gozo mayors take concerns on overdevelopment to parliament: 'It's an unprecedented onslaught'

Gozitan affairs parliamentary committee hears mayors’ concerns on overdevelopment • Last year, PA approved 1,314 permits for development in Gozo

Gozitan mayors have united with one voice to express concern on threat of overdevelopment
Gozitan mayors have united with one voice to express concern on threat of overdevelopment

Gozitan mayors have spoken of their concerns and frustrations on the “unprecedented onslaught” of development in village cores and the countryside in submissions to MPs.

Gozo regional president Samuel Azzopardi raised the alarm during a meeting of parliament’s Gozitan affairs committee.

Azzopardi said that in 2020 the Planning Authority approved 1,314 permits for development in Gozo, almost double the number of permits approved four years earlier.

He said that 223 of the permits approved last year were in ODZ areas.

Azzopardi and two other Gozitan mayors presented several proposals to control development in Gozo and respect the urban streetscape of villages.

One of the proposals is the complete withdrawal in the case of Gozo of a 2015 policy that changed the allowable internal height of buildings. This policy change has been blamed by environmentalists for a spate of construction works in village cores to add new floors to buildings.

The proposals also include the removal of fees for appeals to development permits filed by local councils and urged the PA to be vigilant on incremental development that breaks down mega developments into smaller projects.

Azzopardi said the case officer should be obliged to consult local councils on all applications within the relevant locality and councils should automatically be considered registered objectors irrespective if they actually react or not.

The proposals also called for better streamlining of permits for tables and chairs in public areas by restaurants and expressed concern over photovoltaic panels being installed on agricultural land.

The report also warned that at the current rate of development Gozo might over time stop being an attraction.

Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg, who was also present for the meeting, noted that in his locality with a population of just 2,200 people now had 500 apartments being constructed.

Describing the development spree as a “savage onslaught”, he asked where the balance was, noting that the situation had worsened over the past 18 months.

Buttigieg accused developers of peddling a lie that construction created wealth and jobs, insisting it only served to line the pockets of the few.

He also called for a revision of the local plan to preclude the development of tourism accommodation and a yacht marina in Ħondoq ir-Rummien.

Developments at one go help an area settle down faster - PA CEO

In a reaction to the proposals, PA executive chair Martin Saliba, said the authority had no say on how developers submitted their applications, adding the issue of splitting developments into smaller projects was also subjective.

He said the development of a number of residential apartment blocks in one zone at once could be beneficial since it would allow for uniform development and the public infrastructure to be completed in the short term. "Otherwise, you could have the same development spread over a number of years, which will prevent road formations and utility services to be completed," he said.

Saliba said that as long as the proposed development was within policy, multiple developments happening at one go can enable an area to settle down faster.

He also said that the 2015 policy that changed the internal building heights had removed the semi-basement option in developments but "although it created the impression that heights were increased, the change is not that radical".

The parliamentary committee is chaired by Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo and includes as members Gozitan MPs from both sides of the House.