Flimkien għal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) has strongly opposed the declassification of the three coastal sites from the public domain, arguing that the Planning Authority (PA) has not given any justification for the declassification.
In its written objection submitted to the PA, the environmental organisation said little to no information was given to the public and the stated purpose of the change in the law was so generic that “it can apply to any site imaginable”.
The changes the Planning Authority proposes to the Public Domain Act will declassify 13,000 square metres of Qawra coastline and enable Anglu Xuereb’s AX Group to re-negotiate a new 65-year concession for its Sunny Coast and Suncrest lidos.
While the hotel group has already obtained the planning permits necessary to re-develop its lidos, there since the mid-80s, the Public Domain Act as it stands does not allow the government to give the group a new 65-year concession on the area.
To circumvent this legal obstacle, the PA has opened for public consultation a proposal to remove the area where the lidos stand from the public domain so parliament could then approve the new concession through a simple majority vote.
The same exercise is being carried out for the Chalet in Sliema, for which the government is considering a 65-year lease for it to be redeveloped. In this case, bids are requested from interested parties until 1 February.
In their objection, FAA stated that the motivation given by the government for the declassification is so broad that it can apply to anything and any site in the Maltese Islands and “would set an ugly precedent for the declassification of all Public Domain sites”.
The environmental NGO added that “practically any site in Malta can have projects or developments that ‘serve both private and public interests’. Allowing this would render the concept of public domain meaningless”.
The same concern was shared by Friends of the Earth Director Martin Galea De Giovanni, who, in reply to questions by The Shift, said: “We have always advocated that the first 15m of shoreline should remain public no matter what. This exemption will only open the floodgates to other commercial interests that have already been using public land for their own personal profit to the detriment of the public”.
FAA also protested “the cynical way this public consultation by the Minister responsible for Lands and the Planning Authority as his agent has been carried out”, arguing that the consultation “was launched during the Christmas festivities and the abortion debate without any publicity in the hope that the public would be too distracted to notice and submit comments to the proposals”.
Public consultation on the lidos’ declassification was open until 5 January.
Describing the situation as “ironic”, the NGO noted in its concluding remarks that since the law was enacted in 2016, the first changes to be made are declassifications and not the promised addition of sites to the Public Domain for exemption.
In 2017, NGOs submitted 22 sites, including Manoel Island, Comino, Pembroke, Simblija, Fomm ir-Riħ and the Ras ir-Raħeb headland, to be classified as public domain due to their established ecological and scientific importance as well as high landscape value. Yet, to date, nothing has been done to include them.
FAA underscored that “the case for the declassification has not been made as the public is being kept in the dark as to the purpose of the declassification contrary to the letter and spirit of the law. The concept of public domain has stood the test of time since antiquity, yet it is now being dismantled in the space of a few years for the benefit of private interests”.