Virgin agricultural land of high landscape value in the middle of Wied tas-Seqer in the rural Gozitan village of Ghasri has been given the green light by the Planning Authority to be turned into another massive sheep farm, The Shift News is informed.
This latest controversial decision, which was originally opposed by the local council, the Environment and Resources Authority and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, was approved after its applicant, Joseph Farrugia, was forced by the Planning Authority to follow a course in sheep husbandry at MCAST after it was established that he lacked any knowledge on the subject of rearing sheep.
Despite proof from the agriculture experts committee that Farrugia had not practiced any form of farming for almost 20 years, as his last records go back to 2003, the PA still granted a permit following a change to the original plans submitted by Architect Alexander Bigeni, the same architect Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri uses for various public projects.
Through the permit, the PA’s planning commission, chaired by Martin Camilleri, is allowing Farrugia to turn good farmland in the middle of an unspoilt rural setting into a 400 square metre sheep farm. The building will require excavations on site and it is expected to distort the visual setting of the idyllic undeveloped rural landscape.
Originally filed in 2020, the application was set for refusal by the PA, with the original case officer report stating that the construction of a sheep farm was against rural policy and was not to be tolerated.
The refusal was backed by strong objections from the Ghasri local council, the ERA, the agricultural experts committee and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, who all agreed that the permit should not be granted as it was totally incongruous with the area.
They also noted the proposal was for the building to be located adjacent to a natural water course in the valley and that the site in question was good quality agricultural land that should be used exclusively for crop cultivation.
However, as has often happened over the last few years, the proposal was slowly mutated into an acceptable form as its architect, Alex Bigeni, over time obtained the approval of many of the objectors following piecemeal changes to the development application.
These included modifications to the original development plans, including the removal of a storey from the proposed development.
Sources close to the PA told The Shift News that despite the changes, the permit will still mean a new building in the middle of a valley and the loss of yet another piece of Gozo’s charm – all for the benefit of a so-called dormant farmer and the profits he can milk from his sheep.
The sources also highlighted a strange development among objectors as the Ghasri Mayor, Daniel Attard, who was adamantly against the application and was present for all the case’s hearings, was not present to object at the crucial last PA meeting that approved the application last week.
Attempts to reach Attard for an explanation were unsuccessful. It is not yet known whether the Council will appeal the PA’s decision.
Attard, a Nationalist Party mayor for years, hit the headlines before the last elections when he announced he was switching to Labour. He did not resign from his post and is still the locality’s mayor, now backed by Labour councillors.
Ghasri seems to be in the middle of a flood of applications to turn parts of its rural setting into large farms, and most of the applications are being filed by Bigeni as the architect.