Concern about rampant over-development in Gozo is mounting rapidly, as one iconic view or village centre after another falls prey to developers’ concrete. The demolition of the last remaining traditional boathouses in Xlendi a few weeks ago was a step too far for many, however, and a group of NGO’s have banded together to demand the project is suspended immediately and the permit award investigated.
The three environmental and heritage NGOs, Din L-Art Ħelwa Għawdex, Għawdix and Wirt Għawdex, have formed a ‘Coalition for Gozo’ – a collaboration aimed at protecting the island, its rural landscape and its historic buildings from further destructive development.
The devastation of Xlendi, which has gone from picturesque fishing village to concrete jungle in the space of a few decades, has brought the seriousness of the problem into sharp relief for many, though residents complain it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Developers such as Joseph Portelli, whose track record of ignoring planning regulations or manipulating loopholes in the rules to get around certain limitations is notorious, have left their marks on every town and village on the island, and many are now encroaching into Outside Development Zone (ODZ) areas.
The Coalition said it refuses to accept “that the fate of the old boathouses, housing the Stone Crab and Boathouse restaurants, is sealed and that the fight is over. This was the last remaining corner of sanity in one of the most loved bays in the Maltese Islands in Xlendi”.
The demolition of the Boathouse and the Stone Crab and plans to develop both sites into large scale buildings is an “act of madness” that makes it hard to understand the logic of this planning approval, the group said, citing the “extreme negative impact” on the once pretty fishing village, and “the harm being wrought on the picturesque cliffs and protected garage”.
An article by Telegraph journalist Nick Squires last week drew international attention to the excessive rate of development in Malta, as well as specifically to the destruction of these iconic buildings and the ravage of Xlendi as a whole. His article joins several other British, European and global publications that have been critical of the over-development in Malta and Gozo and are “casting a dark shadow over our tourism sector,” the Coalition said.
The tourism industry is being “severely threatened” by the negative press Malta is receiving as a result of this over-development, and it should be “sounding alarm bells” across the country, they said.
Coalition for Gozo said it is speaking out “to demand that the Government and the Planning Authority (PA) recognise the gravity of the situation and address it with utmost urgency”.
“The Coalition is strongly recommending that the present construction work in Xlendi be stopped immediately. It demands that a full independent investigation be launched on the manner the permits for demolition and re-development of these old boathouses were granted with blatant disregard to any sense of aesthetics, scale, and context. This development was approved despite the fact that the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage strongly recommended that it should be refused,” the statement read.
The Coalition said it is demanding accountability from the Government, the PA and the members of the PA board who approved these developments.
“If the investigation concludes that this approval was not carried out in full accordance with the letter and the spirit of our country’s planning standards and/or is not in the best interests of the general public and Gozo’s economy, adequate steps must be taken,” it said. “The permit must be rescinded and the Planning Authority must carry responsibility for any damages resulting from these actions”.
“The future of the country’s economy must not be held to ransom by such outrageously inappropriate developments, and the right thing must be done. The common good should be the ultimate yardstick by which the negative impact of any such proposed development is measured,” the Coalition said.