A 22-year battle to preserve Hondoq ir-Rummien Bay in Gozo drew to a successful end this morning when a Court of Appeal confirmed an Environment and Planning Review Tribunal decision to deny an application to build a port including a hotel, yacht marina and a tourist village in the scenic area.
Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg confirmed this morning that the Court of Appeal found the Planning Authority had been correct when it rejected new plans filed by the developer after the Environmental Impact Assessment had been finalised.
The appeals court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, also confirmed that the mayor’s inclusion in the planning appeal did not constitute a conflict of interest.
The developers argued that their right to a fair hearing had been breached by a Planning Authority requirement to have a local council representative on its board since the local council had objected to the project.
The court, however, dismissed the line of argumentation and ruled there was nothing wrong with a local council representative being actively involved in a development application in a locality that they represent.
An elated Buttigieg, who has led the battle against the development for well over two decades and since before he became mayor, said, “It is now time for the next step for the government [to provide] public access and enjoyment of Hondoq on a permanent basis.”
The EPRT last November confirmed the PA’s original 20106 unanimous decision to deny Gozo Prestige Hotels’ application to develop the 103,000 square metre site into a project complete with a hotel, villas and apartments.
The proposed project, with a total site area of over 103,000 square metres, was divided into several zones. It included a 110-bedroom hotel set on nine floors, 25 self-catering villas, 60 self-catering apartments, 200 multi-ownership residential units consisting of apartments, maisonettes and bungalows, over 1,200 underground car-parking spaces, a chapel, administration offices, shops and restaurants.
Augustinian Order fails to cash in
The 68 square-kilometre area itself, with its views of Comino and Malta, is owned by the Malta-based Augustinian religious order and it has been sold, on promise of sale, to Gozo Prestige Holidays on the condition that full development permits are awarded, which appears very unlikely after the loss of today’s appeal.
In the event that development permission for the land is somehow granted, the Order would receive the full sale price of Lm10,000 (Maltese liri) per tumulo. At 68 tumuli, the total sale price amounted to Lm680,000, or over €1.58 million in today’s money.
The land had been expropriated from the order by the government in 1970 for quarrying related to the construction of the Mgarr breakwater, and to place the now defunct reverse osmosis plant located on the edge of the popular sandy beach.
In late June 2002 the government returned the land to the Order, and the following week, on 4 July 2002, Gozo Prestige Holidays filed its development application.
In a study it carried out on the project in 2010, the church’s own environment commission found it difficult to justify how this project would bring greater wealth and quality of life to Gozitan in the long run.
It said, “The project will not be conserving the area’s identity and beauty, which must be the principal assets to attract tourists towards Gozo. Using the pretext of clearing the existing quarry and rehabilitating it, there is a risk of speculating on the land without any consideration for the tourism product being offered.”
The Church commission added that it was a pity that the developer had been allowed to purchase the land “without the seller realising or caring of the damage this deal would result in.”