Update: The permit has been approved.
The Planning Authority (PA) is on Thursday expected to sanction a controversial extension to a sprawling quarry in Attard’s Wied Incita. The site’s owners have a history of defying planning rules, erecting unauthorised facilities, and ignoring enforcement orders. The anticipated permit will now effectively endorse the illegal structures.
Raising yet more concerns that government regulations are not being applied to all equally, particularly within the privileged construction industry, the PA’s planning directorate is recommending the approval of an extension to the quarry owned by contractor Michael Bugeja, even though this will encroach on an agricultural area that falls within the groundwater resource protection zone and is an area of high ecological sensitivity.
Situated between the villages of Żebbuġ and Attard on either side of the valley known as Wied Incita, the quarry is just 100 metres away from Mount Carmel hospital.
Residents of both villages have raised objections and staged protests condemning the noise and dust pollution created by the facility, as well as against what they see as the ruin of the valley.
The new permit will give the owners of the quarry an extended 15-year life span, through which around 200,000 cubic metres of fresh hardstone is to be extracted every year.
The stone will be crushed on-site into aggregate for the building industry, which will require some 36 massive lorries a day to transport the material.
The new PA recommendation, three years in the making and agreed during closed-door negotiations with the applicants – the Bilven/Bilom Group, owned by Bugeja and his children – is expected to come disguised as some form of upgrade to the area.
According to the PA, with the support of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), part of the quarry currently being used by the building industry to dump construction waste will be rehabilitated and landscaped.
This initiative means the site will be improved, according to ERA.
No action on scores of illegalities
The Planning Authority is also arguing that the new permit extension deal should be seen as a ‘lesser evil’ option, as it will reduce the number of illegal structures currently on site.
The quarry has been the subject of at least five different enforcement orders, some going as far back as 20 years or more, that have often simply been ignored. Indeed, several of the illegal structures scheduled to be removed are only being cleared so that the new development can take place.
At the same time, others, including an entire illegally constructed brick plant, will continue to operate, using the same aggregate extracted from the new extension. An application to sanction the brick plant has been left dormant since 2003.
The PA’s enforcement directorate, which was consulted over the fresh application, took a surprising stance: “The new proposal does not sanction the infringements (illegalities) on site. However, if the permit is issued, (some) of the illegal structures will be demolished while the areas which are subject to (other illegalities) will be excavated. Consequently, both enforcement orders should be rendered as ‘end cases’,” the watchdogs against development illegalities argued.
The PA, while insisting that the permit should go ahead despite the many contraventions involved, claims that “this permission does not sanction any other illegal development that may exist on site”.
According to the various enforcement orders issued over the years, the quarry owners had illegally constructed a room and raised a boundary wall; removed topsoil and effected excavation work outside the perimeter of the quarry; constructed two illegal warehouses and a fully-fledged brick plant, and built an illegal bridge.
None of these structures has ever been removed by the PA despite the enforcement orders. It is not known whether the quarry owners were ever fined over these infringements.