An application for a block of flats in the vicinity of a historical windmill in Xagħra, Gozo, was narrowly defeated on Tuesday in a move welcomed by the local council, residents and NGOs.
The Planning Authority has refused a permit for a block of 15 flats across the street from a 19th century windmill in Xagħra, Gozo.
The application has been closely watched as it was one of the test cases following a policy issued on 27 May that seeks to put more stringent controls on buildings within a 50-metre radius of Grade I protected buildings.
Immediately after the decision, Xagħra mayor Christian Zammit said the council had expressed “concern” about the development during the hearing, and went on to talk about another two ongoing battles the council is pursuing – against a new multi-storey development of dozens of flats and a hotel down the same street, and a hotel in Xaghra’s square in which the developer appealed the PA’s decision to refuse a permit.
Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) issued a press statement that “welcomed the Planning Authority’s decision,” before adding that the application of the policy remains at the board’s discretion. The environmental organisation called for “legal ratification in order to ensure that [the policy] applies fairly and uniformly to all projects”.
The application for the block of flats was beset with irregularities. A permit initially granted on 12 June was withdrawn and led to a restart of the application process, finally leading to today’s hard-fought meeting in which the board rejected the application in a vote of two to one.
The applicant, Shaun Sultana, is a photographer who has appeared in at least eight development applications in the past three years.
FAA has called for the revocation of the 2015 policy that has permitted a wave of blocks of flats throughout the islands, including five-storey blocks in Gozo, which are “fast ruining the beauty of Gozo’s characteristic villages, the very quality that tourists seek out, therefore undermining tourism that Gozo depends upon”.
Xagħra’s mayor “appealed to developers to refrain from destroying our villages – the cores, the cliffs, the rural tracts, the streetscapes, and their aesthetic values”.
FAA drew attention to the large developments schemed for Gozo: “Massive blocks of hotels and 50-70 holiday flats in Xlendi, Xagħra, Nadur and Qala that will wreck the quality of life of old-established communities”.
“It is up to our politicians to ensure that the PA ceases to be a Permitting Authority and assumes its responsibility as a Planning Authority to ensure Gozo’s economic future, as well as residents’ quality of life,” the NGO added.
Last October, in an unprecedented move, all of Gozo’s mayors issued a joint statement expressing shock at rampant development – most notably manifesting itself in a wave of five-storey blocks of flats – by “unscrupulous, irresponsible land speculators”.