Xagħra’s local council and six eNGOs have filed objections against an application filed by an associate of Gozitan construction tycoon Joseph Portelli, which if approved would lead to the uptake of 1,645sqm of land adjacent to Portelli’s seven-storey project in Triq Marsalforn for the development of a swimming pool and surrounding landscaping.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) have also raised concerns about the application due to the site’s protected status as an Outside Development Zone (ODZ).
Besides the organisations and government authorities, over a hundred individuals have also submitted objections to ‘The Valley’ project, a significant reaction to an application that was published online on 3 November, just over a month ago. The application (PA/07509/21) filed by Portelli’s business partner, Mark Agius, seeks to add the swimming pool and additional landscaping to an already approved project from 2018. The original application had not garnered such opposition, with ERA failing to comment on the application altogether.
In its objection, Xagħra’s local council argued against the application by stating that, should it be approved, it would “create a substantial precedent whereby pools can start being allowed beneath the ridge edge within an area consisting of pristine terraced fields on the side of a valley”, with the SCH raising the same objection.
The site in Triq Marsalforn stands on the edge of a ridge dense with low-lying vegetation, replacing what once was an abandoned room on the side of the road. The council cited development control regulations which state that for developments in such areas, distance must be kept from the edge of a ridge to preserve the area’s sensitivity.
“The local council is already concerned with the effect the approved and built apartment block has had on the ridge itself when this development was allowed to excavate the ridge itself. Extending the development beyond the development zone and beneath the ridge itself should not be accepted,” the council’s objection reads.
ERA’s comment on the proposal highlights how the practice of building beyond development boundaries “undermines” them while “cumulatively leading to the overall change in the appearance of the surroundings and negatively impacting the wider site context”.
“The entire surrounding area beyond the Development Zone is designated as being ODZ with the specific aim of excluding built development and avoiding its adverse environmental implications at source. The proposed land commitment is also expected to intensify development pressures at the urban rural interface, with consequent direct repercussions on its further disturbance and degradation,” ERA’s comment reads.
Besides the local council and government watchdog authorities, Moviment Graffitti, Wirt Għawdex, Din L-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, the Ramblers’ Association (Malta) and Nature Trust also objected to the swimming pool extension.
In its objection, which was re-used by many of the individual objectors to the project, Moviment Graffitti cited the site’s designation as an area of high landscape value, several rural and thematic objectives of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) and the Rural Design and Policy Guidance (RDPG) regulations as primary reasons why the project extension should not be approved.
Mainly, the rural and thematic objectives refer to planning regulations which the proposal runs counter to, including the need to guide development away from protected areas, protecting sensitive, natural areas and preserving biodiversity as well as soil quality. Moviment Graffitti also referred to regulations concerning the building of swimming pools in ODZ areas, pointing out that the application takes up more land than is allowed by the same policy, which amounts to a maximum of 75sqm.
Din L-Art Ħelwa, while also pointing to several clauses from the RPDG regulations which are breached by Portelli’s proposal, highlighted how “the application makes part of a continued attempt to increase activity on this ODZ site through its piecemeal formalisation”, with Wirt Għawdex raising the same point. Overall, all six organisations argued against the application as the equivalent of a non-starter that should be rejected altogether.