Development in Ħondoq to be limited to afforestation

Planning Authority is also proposing splitting Ħondoq in two areas one where only afforestation is allowed and one governed by a present policy which allows beach amenities and ‘sensitive tourist development’

Ħondoq ir-Rummien (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
Ħondoq ir-Rummien (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

Following a protracted twenty-year old battle spearheaded by environmentalists and Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg, the Planning Authority has issued the three main objectives of its local plan review to ensure the protection of Ħondoq ir-Rummien.

But the amendments are likely to protract the debate on the future of Ħondoq as the PA aims to split Ħondoq in two area, one governed by the new restrictive policy and another where some sort of development can be allowed.

The amendments will only be drafted following the first round of public conclusion on the objectives which will be subsequently reissued for another round of public consultation.

In the proposed objectives, the Authority is now proposing that any form of development within the area of Ħondoq is prohibited and in the future the site should only be used for an afforestation project as foreseen in the original local plan issued for public consultation in 2002 but which was abruptly changed in 2006 to accommodate possible tourist related development including a marina.

This aim will be achieved by revising local plan policy ‘GZ-Qala-4’ in a way which prohibits “all forms of development on the land, allocate the site for afforestation and provide clear guidelines on what this designation entails in terms of works and activities”.

The present local plan policy which is being revised allows “sensitively designed, high quality and low-density buildings that blend into the landscape” in the Ħondoq area.

But the policy revision being proposed now also seeks to change a map of safeguarded areas in Qala included in the local plan where development is currently regulated by two policies namely GZ-Qala-3 and GZ Qala-4. Now the PA is proposing splitting the area regulated by the two intertwined policies.

The proposed objectives also aim at “clearly distinguishing” between land governed by a policy allowing government agencies can “upgrade beach facilities” and build “unobtrusive facilities” in Ħondoq along with 'sensitive tourism development' from the area governed by the amended policy where only afforestation projects can be allowed.

In the stated objectives of the current review there is no reference to amending policy GZ Qala-3.

GZ-Qala-3 states that the Authority will “favourably consider proposals from public agencies, which have the endorsement of both the Local Council of Qala as well as Central Government, to upgrade beach facilities at Ħondoq ir-Rummien.” But the same policy also refers to the quarry area stating that the “preferred use is to sensitively develop the area” and that. “tourism and marine related development may be considered by the PA in this area subject to sensitive landscaping’.

In the absence of a specific amendment to this policy the PA risks leaving a window for possible tourist development on a part of Ħondoq, the extent of which still has to be determined.

But the amendment also seeks “to amend or delete all other provisions in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan of 2006 which are deemed to run counter to the overall objectives set out in the plan. This means that the public can call for changes to GZ-Qala-3 to avoid any conflicting interpretation of policies.

MaltaToday is informed that environmentalists are currently analysing the implications of the proposed policy review.

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