PA’s ap­proval of yet an­other fire­works fac­tory in­curs Għarb coun­cil’s wrath

● New fac­tory will be lo­cated 300 me­tres from San Dim­itri chapel

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Neil Camil­leri

The Plan­ning Author­ity has ap­proved a de­vel­op­ment per­mit for a new fire­works fac­tory in the Għarb val­ley, de­spite the ob­jec­tions raised by a num­ber of en­ti­ties.

The Għarb val­ley is al­ready home to sev­eral fire­works fac­to­ries and was the scene of two tragedies in the last seven years – a huge ex­plo­sion in Septem­ber 2010, which left six peo­ple dead, and an­other two years later, which claimed the lives of four peo­ple.

The site of the pro­posed fac­tory lies on San Dim­itri Road, some 300 me­tres away from the his­toric chapel. It is also 500 me­tres away from res­i­dences.

The de­ci­sion to grant per­mis­sion was blasted by the Għarb Lo­cal Coun­cil, which ac­cused the

PA of be­ing in­con­sis­tent and the gov­ern­ment of ig­nor­ing the will of the peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the case of­fi­cer’s re­port, the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment will con­sist of six main stores, new stor­age and pro­cess­ing rooms, blast walls with sand bags, a reser­voir and the in­stal­la­tion of a fire­fight­ing wa­ter sys­tem. It will also in­clude emer­gency shel­ters. The ground on the site will be low­ered by around a me­tre and a half.

The site, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, is cur­rently “free of any de­vel­op­ment and con­sists of an arable land par­cel char­ac­terised by a ru­ral land­scape.”

A 2008 ap­pli­ca­tion for the restora­tion of rub­ble walls and con­struc­tion of an agri­cul­tural store had been dis­missed.

The case of­fi­cer said the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment lies well out­side the 183-me­tre buf­fer zone as stip­u­lated by law.

There were a num­ber of ob­jec­tions, in­clud­ing by Wirt Għawdex, Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Għarb Lo­cal Coun­cil and third par­ties over the im­pact that the de­vel­op­ment would have on the en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing the chapel, as well as the ecol­ogy of the area and nearby res­i­dences.

Other en­ti­ties, like Na­ture Trust and the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Author­ity also voiced their con­cerns, with the lat­ter point­ing to the take-up of agri­cul­tural land.

The Su­per­in­ten­dence of Cul­tural Her­itage (SCH) had ini­tially noted that the pro­posed fac­tory “poses a real threat to the in­tegrity of the his­toric chapel and the land­scape.”

The SCH also pointed out that the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment “will be ex­posed and vis­i­ble from var­i­ous parts of Gozo, in­clud­ing tal-Jor­dan light­house and its sur­round­ings.”

The case of­fi­cer’s re­port says that upon re­ceipt of the ar­chi­tect’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tions and clar­i­fi­ca­tions, SCH was re-con­sulted and no re­ply was sub­mit­ted in the stip­u­lated time. “There­fore, it is be­ing con­sid­ered that the SCH has no ob­jec­tions.”

No re­ply was given in the con­sul­ta­tion pe­riod by the Civil Pro­tec­tion Depart­ment and the Ex­plo­sives Com­mit­tee.

The re­port says the site in ques­tion does not lie within an en­vi­ron­men­tally/ar­chae­o­log­i­cally sen­si­tive area and there are no pro­pos­als for fu­ture sched­ul­ing. The site was deemed ad­e­quate in terms of the ap­pli­ca­ble poli­cies. Go­ing also on the safe dis­tance and the SCH’s ‘no ob­jec­tion’, the case of­fi­cer rec­om­mended the ap­pli­ca­tion for ap­proval.

In a state­ment, the Għarb Lo­cal Coun­cil blasted the de­ci­sion, ac­cus­ing the au­thor­i­ties of not giv­ing any weight to the will of Għarb res­i­dents. It noted that in a 2010 ref­er­en­dum, res­i­dents had voted against the de­vel­op­ment of more fire­works fac­to­ries in the val­ley.

“The will of the peo­ple is not given any weight ex­cept dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign. The gov­ern­ment chooses what and whom to lis­ten to,” the coun­cil said.

It said that the PA’s ap­proval was “em­blem­atic of abuse of power and where the law of the jun­gle pre­dom­i­nates.”

“A per­mit for a de­vel­op­ment with an enor­mous im­pact on the lo­cal­ity and within a highly sen­si­tive site was ap­proved in a jiffy,” it said, adding that this project should have been con­sid­ered as a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment and, as such, should have been dis­cussed by the 14-mem­ber Plan­ning Board, not the three­mem­ber Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. The coun­cil would have had a vote on the for­mer.

It ac­cused the PA of be­ing in­con­sis­tent, some­times ap­prov­ing per­mits for the restora­tion of rub­ble walls and the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of val­leys, and some­times ap­prov­ing new fire­works fac­to­ries close to his­toric sites.

The PA, the coun­cil said, con­sid­ered the San Dim­itri chapel as wor­thy of a high level of pro­tec­tion but then ap­proved a fire­works fac­tory just 300 me­tres away.

The coun­cil con­demned the way the ap­pli­ca­tion was pro­cessed. It said that while it had ob­jected at least twice dur­ing the course of the ap­pli­ca­tion, and was recog­nised as a reg­is­tered ob­jec­tor, it was never con­sulted as an im­por­tant stake­holder.

“This when con­sid­er­ing that the lo­cal coun­cil is a reg­is­tered ob­jec­tor in other cases within the lo­cal­ity, in­clud­ing yet an­other fire­works fac­tory, which seem to be mush­room­ing in the lo­cal­ity.”

“Above all, the lo­cal coun­cil con­demns the ap­proval of the Fire­works Fac­tory Com­plexes Pol­icy by the Plan­ning Author­ity, the scope of which is clear to dump all fire­works fac­to­ries, in­clud­ing sev­eral new fac­to­ries, in the pic­turesque west coun­try­side of Għarb, to the detri­ment of res­i­dents, visi­tors and own­ers who till the land in this agri­cul­tural area.”

“The lo­cal coun­cil will not al­low the lo­cal­ity of Għarb to con­tinue be­ing used as a dump­ing ground for fire­works fac­to­ries and stores with ex­plo­sive raw ma­te­ri­als and prod­ucts which are trans­ported through the built-up area of the lo­cal­ity with the ob­vi­ous enor­mous dan­gers to which the pop­u­la­tion is be­ing sub­jected.”

The coun­cil said that fol­low­ing this week’s de­vel­op­ment, it has al­ready pre­pared a pe­ti­tion which will be sub­mit­ted to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion with the hope that the Plan­ning Author­ity will be stopped from tak­ing de­ci­sions which put peo­ple’s lives at risk and which go against fun­da­men­tal rights, in­clud­ing the right of en­joy­ing one’s own pri­vate prop­erty.”

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