Ban on new quarries dropped in 2015, minister confirms

Malta now has no specific policy regulating  quarry developments except for a generic policy in the SPED which states that further mineral extraction, 'preferably' through extensions of existing quarries, can be considered if this does not damage protected areas

A study showed there was an adequate supply of hard-stone for the next 34 years – till 2036 – and of soft stone until 2040
A study showed there was an adequate supply of hard-stone for the next 34 years – till 2036 – and of soft stone until 2040

Malta currently lacks a planning policy to regulate the development of new quarries, and a blanket ban on new quarries from a 2003 ‘Mineral Subject Plan’ is now no longer applicable.

The plan had included a presumption “against granting new hard-stone and soft-stone quarries at least until the first review of the plan” – which would have overruled the development of a proposed quarry in Bengħajsa as proposed recently.

Replying to a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP Stanley Zammit whether the proposed quarry in Bengħajsa was in breach of the Mineral Subject Plan, Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi replied that the 2002 plan has been “abolished” and  superseded by generic provisions in the Strategic Planning and Environment Plan (SPED) approved in 2015. The minister said this means the Planning Authority can “consider the development of quarries  as long as these do not result in unacceptable harm to the environment.”

In reality, the SPED does not specifically refer to the development of new quarries but states that the country should consider “further mineral extraction preferably through extensions of existing quarries provided that there is no unacceptable adverse impact on protected areas and species.”

The minister also revealed that the quarry being proposed at Bengħajsa has the potential of producing 225,000 cubic metres of hard-stone aggregate.

The mineral subject plan, prepared by Entec UK, had included a total of 46 policies aimed at improving the current situation, recommending that no new quarries should be allowed by the Planning Authority. It also recommended the importation of building aggregates, even if it deemed freight handling charges in Malta were too high.

A study of the reserves and production of soft and hard-stone carried out in connection with the Mineral Subject Plan, clearly showed there was an adequate supply of hard-stone for the next 34 years – till 2036 – and of soft stone until 2040.

But it is doubtful whether these projections reflect the accelerated demand for mineral resources triggered by the current construction boom.

The Mineral Subject Plan was approved by the Planning Authority in 2003 and a proposed new quarry at Tax-Xatba L-Ħamra in Mqabba was turned down on the basis of this policy.

In its objections to the proposed Bengħajsa quarry, the Birżebbugia local council, represented by architect Carmel Cacopardo, is claiming that this development is in breach of the Mineral Subject Plan while referring to the threat to natural heritage in the area.

Zrinzo Azzopardi replied that the application presented by Paul Falzon is now being assessed on the basis of its impact on the environment and cultural heritage.

In fact both the Environment and Resources Authority and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage have expressed concern about this development. ERA has expressed concern on the loss of the site’s rural character while the Superintendence has expressed concern that the quarry is located just 100m away from Fort Bengħajsa noting that vibrations may result in damage to the fort, whose present state of neglect and disrepair make it more unstable.