The Planning Authority will have a difficult task recommending the approval of an application to turn an abandoned explosives factory at Dingli Cliffs into a tourism development as hundreds of objections have been filed over what is being dubbed as a “scandalous” and “outrageous” application.
At the same time, calls have been launched by objectors, including various environmental organisations, for a formal investigation into works commissioned recently by Infrastructure Malta in the area, which seem to serve for nothing except a future development since there are no residents.
The Shift has reported that Infrastructure Malta spent more than €350,000 to insert a new one kilometre potable water pipeline leading to the abandoned factory and the ‘upgrading’ of the rural roads leading to it. Despite claims, no underground water pipeline ever existed in Bufula Road, which leads to the development application under review.
Infrastructure Malta, which justified its decision saying it was a request by another government agency – Water Services Corporation – falls under the political remit of Minister Ian Borg who is a Dingli resident.
The Planning Authority received more than 400 objections up to last Friday when the one-month long consultation period for this application came to a close. Objectors joined the main environmental NGOs, such as Din l-Art Ħelwa, Ramblers, Nature Trust, Moviment Graffitti and others in condemning the application.
Quoting the same policies which regulate the Planning Authority, objectors said the application is a ‘non-starter’ as the area is one of the most ecologically sensitive on the island as a protected Natura 2000 site.
Many of the objectors insisted that instead of considering any development in the area, the former explosives factory should be demolished, and the area rehabilitated into its formal rural setting to be enjoyed by everyone as part of idyllic Dingli Cliffs habitat.
According to Moviment Graffitti, which cited the original 1987 permit for the explosives factory, the development cannot even legally take place as the site was given a permit on the condition that it was to be used solely for the purpose of distancing the factory from residential areas.
The Planning Authority, and before it, MEPA, have always strongly resisted any form of development on the Pulvich Factory, as the building is known based on the surname of its owners – the Pugliesevic family from Dingli.
While the factory has only survived a few years, particularly due to the decline of its product – explosives for quarrying – its owners have been trying to turn their massive building, the size of two full-size football grounds, into more lucrative use.
However, despite various applications in the name of different applicants, including for a storage facility, building of bungalows for residential use, a spa and others, it has always been made clear the area should not be developed.
A sinister arrangement?
The reception of the latest application, filed last June, looks different and is raising doubts that some form of ‘sinister agreement’ has already been reached between the authorities and the developers – a wealthy business family which owns JB Stores for a development in a district where Minister Ian Borg does not have the best reputation.
While the area has been left abandoned for decades, the authorities, particularly Infrastructure Malta, suddenly showed a keen interest in upgrading the road network leading to the abandoned factory.
Infrastructure works were rapidly taking place in January, even before a planning permit was issued. In fact, the Environment and Resources Authority had to intervene to stop the illegal works. Until these works were carried out, the area was serviced by a surface water pipe, a much cheaper option, since there was no need for a fully-fledged potable water pipeline.
Infrastructure Malta denies any connection between the Pulvich development application and its upgrading of the road network, insisting that the works had been planned for a long time.
In addition, two government authorities – the Malta Tourism Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority – that always opposed any development on the factory, have suddenly changed their stance.
While the Malta Tourism Authority is now stating that it is considering the ‘tourism’ project favourably, the Environment and Resources Authority is also shifting the goalposts, signalling that it will be able to live with this development which the same government-controlled agency had vehemently opposed in the past.
The Planning Authority is now expected to study the proposal, consider the objections and decide on whether to grant this permit.
The applicants already own and operate Hotel Santana in St Paul’s Bay. The hotel is managed by George Micallef – a long time government-appointed member on the board of the Malta Tourism Authority.
In 2014, Micallef was acquitted from criminal charges that he had made false declarations to facilitate the granting of a permit for a party venue on land in Mistra owned by former PN MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando known as the ‘Spin Valley case’.
The court had decided that there wasn’t enough proof to determine Micallef was guilty.