PA’s approval of yet another fireworks factory incurs Għarb council’s wrath
● New factory will be located 300 metres from San Dimitri chapel
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.”