The government’s proposed changes to local plans regulating the use of the Wied Żnuber valley in Birżebbuġa raised questions on whether they will allow the development of a controversial airstrip for model aeroplanes, despite promises that the land will be kept free from development.
The proposed changes, published for public consultation by the Planning Authority at the end of last month, aim to remove the area’s industrial zoning, turning it into an outside development zone. Yet, at the same time, the Planning Authority proposed allocations for “low-impact sports” and development “aimed at enhancing the environmental value” of the site.
No further information or limitations were defined for the two exemptions made for the area. In response to the publication of the proposed changes, independent politician Arnold Cassola asked whether the proposal was designed to allow for some forms of development covertly.
In a statement on Saturday, Cassola noted how the development “aimed at enhancing the environmental value of the site” and the allocation of a “minor portion” of the site to “low-impact sports” were not defined.
“This leads one to suspect that the primary intention of this amendment is, in reality, to entrench permission in the Local Plan for the miniature airstrip for model aircraft, which has been proposed at Wied Żnuber,” he said.
Plans for a model airstrip at the site were initially raised in February 2022. Considering the zone’s proximity to a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the plans were widely condemned for their environmental impact.
The airstrip was to be relocated from another area in Ħal Far to make way for a racetrack promised by the government. Concurrently, Prime Minister Robert Abela had made a pre-electoral pledge that the area would be defined as an outside development zone, ruling out all development.
The government industrial parks agency INDIS Malta, the Lands Authority and SportMalta had signed an agreement with the Ħal Far Model Flying Association to relocate their site, releasing a 12,000 square metre area for government use.
Last month, in the latest from a series of letters to the prime minister, a Birżebbuġa NGO called out Abela’s contradiction in promising the project would go ahead at a reduced size. The NGO said the model airstrip’s size was irrelevant, adding that “the activity is inadequate for an area right next to a Natura 2000 site”.
Environmental NGOs were not consulted on either project; both were expected to have widespread ecological impact.
The consultation period for the proposed amendments to the Ħal Far Local Plan will close on 21 December.