Editorial: Save the sister island, from a Maltese fate

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This week, in Gozo, we saw plans to replace a disused snack bar along the Marsalforn promenade with a seven-storey building that had been submitted to the Planning Authority for consideration.

The planning application, filed earlier this year, proposes the demolition and reconstruction of a snack bar and the construction of three overlying apartments to an overall height of seven levels.

In recent weeks, The Malta Independent has reported on much larger planning applications, including a complex of 125 apartments – split over three separate applications, common practice to avoid added scrutiny that major projects like these may require – on agricultural land in Sannat.

Similarly, earlier this month, this newsroom reported how plans for a four-storey block of apartments on the outskirts of Xewkija in an alley with no vehicular access, even though the project is set to hold garage space for 40 cars, were also submitted.

Shockingly, this newsroom also found that in that case, nine apartments had already been sold by the developer, even though the planning process was nowhere reaching its conclusion, with the PA yet to make its recommendation on the project.

The easterly seaside town of Marsalforn is one of the areas which has been hardest hit by intensive development, with a number of blocks of apartments or flats cropping up in what was once a sleepy harbour hamlet; and the proposed development mentioned above would be among the highest along the seafront. The plans show that the building would rise to 21.6 metres, dwarfing the neighbouring snack bar and apartment building by three floors.

One might ask, what is the need for the concrete-ification of Gozo? Haven’t we done enough of that already in Malta? Statistics have found that the population of Gozo is an ageing one and in a steady decline. How could it be that we need so many rabbit hutches appearing right, left and centre? Who exactly is buying them? Do we all need a second home in Gozo or is it purely for tourism? There are so many questions that need answering here, where it seems the market is far outweighing demand.

Earlier this year an entity known as GUG, Gozitan University Group, tried to get their voices heard with a damning statement regarding the state of overdevelopment.

According to the GUG, “latest records show that very rarely does the Planning Authority refuse to grant building permits, all in all showing that it is not fulfilling its potential to reduce the effects of overdevelopment”.

The “Gozo and Comino Local Plan” policy document is being “blatantly disregarded and set aside”, the GUG said. The aim of the document, it said, “was to promote development while ensuring that the natural and cultural capital of the islands is safeguarded for the enjoyment of current and future generations”.

It argued that “it is clear that such safeguarding is definitely not taking place, with the natural landscape being developed uncontrollably, historic sights damaged to accommodate developers, traditional townhouses replaced by concrete blocks and ‘masterplans’ ruining ecological areas and historical centres”. It went on to say that, “we feel that the number of permits being approved will forever change the landscape of the island, ruining it to the detriment of future generations”.

The Gozo University Group concluded by saying: “We strongly encourage other Gozitan organisations to voice their concerns with the relevant authorities before Gozo’s charm is lost.” It’s time for everyone to join forces and not just Gozitans.

The island is a haven of countryside, valleys and unspoilt scenery, a bolthole for many of us on the mainland. Let’s hope the greed of a few doesn’t cause Gozo to rot for all generations to come.

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