Gozo residents breathed a sigh of relief following the refusal of a planning control application that sought to open up over 3,400sqm of Outside Development Zone (ODZ) land in Għarb to development.
“Over 3,400sqm of pristine farmland and a natural habitat to migratory birds and local wildlife in one of the nation’s most unspoilt villages – Għarb – has been given a reprieve from development thanks to the quick response of a shell-shocked public spurred into quick action last month,” Din L-Art Ħelwa’s (DLH) Gozo said in a statement.
The application resulted in over 1,200 objections in less than three weeks. Had the application been approved, the zoning of the area in question would have been opened up to residential development.
“This case became a call to arms not only of Gozitans but also of Maltese who look to Gozo as a ‘last stand’ for peace, greenery and open space against the onslaught of overdevelopment, noise and chaos that has engulfed Malta,” the statement adds.
Għarb’s local council also objected to the development along with hundreds of residents and NGOs opposed to the project, arguing against the attempt to change planning constraints without amending the local plan through public consultation as is required by law.
The formation of DLH’s Gozo branch occurred following public outrage against numerous development applications in Gozo, many of which were fronted by Gozitan construction tycoon Joseph Portelli and his associates. Besides an alliance formed by Gozo’s local councils, DLH Gozo has also joined two other NGOs focused on Gozo, Għawdix and Wirt Għawdex, to unite their efforts against overdevelopment.
The coalition is actively working to stop applications that are contributing to the ongoing intensification of development in Gozo. One of its more recent battles was against two developments set to permanently alter Xlendi’s iconic bay, demanding that works be stopped and calling for the permits awarded for the demolition of two buildings to be redeveloped into large-scale buildings.
“Last week, Din L-Art Helwa Għawdex together with Għawdix and Wirt Għawdex who together have formed a Coalition for Gozo invited Planning Authority chairman Martin Saliba and CEO Vincent Cassar to a discussion of issues of particular concern to Gozo before the end of the year. The group has clear, implementable recommendations that would ‘stop the rot’ on Gozo.”
Listing its recommendations on a social media post, the NGO had called for a 12-month suspension of all development control applications, a 12-month extension of all Urban Conservation Area boundaries by 250m, and a 12-month moratorium on all ODZ applications excepting any applications involving genuine agricultural use, among other criteria for reform within the Planning Authority such as the establishment of a role within the PA in which an individual would be tasked with immediately responding to reports of planning abuses in Gozo.
In June, The Shift published an article based on information submitted in parliament which indicated that, since 2013, a total of 6,000 development permits had been approved in Gozo. One out of six of those permits was approved on ODZ land. Up to 2015, new development applications in Gozo stood at an average of 500 a year, with the number increasing to 1,400 per year in 2019 and 2020.