Government moves to safeguard Ħondoq from development as Prime Minister hints at local plan changes

The Prime Minister said he gave 'directions' for changes to be explored that would reverse zoning rules enacted in 2006

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: PL)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: PL)

Updated at 1:25pm with full report on Abela interview

Robert Abela has hinted at changes to local plans in Gozo to safeguard Ħondoq from development.

The Prime Minister said he gave “directions” for changes to be explored that would reverse zoning rules enacted in 2006.

Speaking on One Radio on Sunday morning, a few days after the Appeals Court confirmed a decision by the planning tribunal to reject a development application at Hondoq.

The court decision effectively brought to an end a 20-year battle against the project by Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg and environmental activists.

Developers wanted to build a luxury village in a disused quarry and a yacht marina at Hondoq, which activists argued would ruin the area forever.

Abela said the government wanted to put into practice its electoral manifesto pledge to protect Hondoq from development as he criticised the 2006 changes to the local plans that zoned the area for development.

“The Labour Party was always consistent on Ħondoq - our principle was against development in the bay. The Nationalist Party is not credible as thanks to their decision in 2006, they opened the doors to possible development there [...] The decision was a crazy one,” Abela said.

He said that the change in local plans made touristic and maritime development possible in an area that was only earmarked for afforestation projects.

READ ALSO: Labour mayor on Ħondoq: now State must expropriate land for national park

“The PN government took this decision behind the backs of the local council, and this is unacceptable. It is evident that the place should not be developed. This was never in the interest of Gozo but only of the developers,” Abela emphasised.

He insisted that in the Hondoq case, the PA consistently rejected the proposed development, making it somewhat of a unique case, however, he said that the risk of another bid for alternative development was still possible.

"And so I gave direction and tasked an analysis with changes linked to planning so that we affirm what we believe and give long-term reassurance no. I am against development in Ħondoq, against any type of development," Abela said, stopping short of mentioning the local plans but strongly hinting at them.

The PM said that in the past governments incentivised development in Gozo as the construction and property sector was stagnant.

Abela said that times had changed and said this was the reason why the government had launched the cash incentive scheme of €30,000 (double that in Malta) for anyone who acquired property in the village core (urban conservation areas).

“Today’s priority is to preserve the village core and the character of Gozo […] We are incentivising investment in properties in the village core in order to minimize new development and preserve the island,” Abela said.

The PM said that the government was putting in work to increase job opportunities in Gozo for Gozitans.

He said that he met with seven Gozitan NGOs from different sectors, including the Gozo Chamber of Commerce and the Gozo Tourism Association.

"No one told me to turn back the clock to when Gozo was stagnant, for when Gozo was desperate for tourists. Together we discussed initiatives to keep Gozo moving forward in the context of new priorities."

Sofia Inquiry

With regards to public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia Abela said that the government want to see justice delivered and the for the whole truth to come out with full transparency.

The terms of reference have been published earlier in the week, which include an investigation into whether there was some sort of connection between the way the land was allocated and the collapse of the building.

He said that he kept his word on publishing the procès-verbal of the magisterial inquiry and said that this will help with the process involving the public inquiry.

“Now the important part is the reform in the construction sector, with the setting up of the Building and Construction Authority and the licencing of contactors and builders. Anyone in the sector has to act responsibly and if not the state would intervene,” Abela said.

He emphasised that bullies had no place in the sector and on the roads.

“Those that are observant of the law should not feel disadvantaged. Citizens have a right to feel safe in our society.”