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‘Strong case’ against production company

Film company cooperating with Mepa

The planning authority would be making a “strong” case to take action against the production company it claimed “clearly” breached permit conditions when filming in Dwejra and that yesterday apologised for the “unnecessary distress” it caused.

Fire & Blood Productions, which filmed parts of the HBO series Game of Thrones at picturesque Dwejra, blamed the subcontractor it hired for not adhering to established conditions in the clean-up process to remove sand it had strewn on the protected site.

In a briefing yesterday, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority said it would be making a case to withdraw part or all of the €15,000 bank guarantee imposed on the production company and it was not ruling out other measures of redress, depending on whether the site had been irreversibly damaged.

Residual damage was still being quantified but it was not looking bad, the director of environment, Martin Seychell said.

Planning director Chris Borg pointed out the production company’s failures included the fact that it did not inform Mepa when it began to lay the sand and did not place an impermeable plastic sheet, using mesh instead, which defeated the purpose.

It also failed to inform the authority when it proceeded to clean up the area; and using heavy machinery to do so.

Mr Borg said Mepa was not advised when the works would start and, therefore, had no observers on site until it was informed by third parties and discovered the lack of an impermeable membrane on October 14.

When inspectors last week realised that machinery was being used to speed up the removal process, the work was immediately stopped, he said.

Had the applicants used the required underlying material, they would have been able to easily scoop up the sand without leaving any impact. As things stood, they now had to embark on a labour-intensive, more costly and lengthy exercise, using brushes and spades.

The laying of sand on the rocks at Dwejra sparked outrage among residents and environmental NGOs, who expressed concern the fossil-rich area could be severely damaged.

But Mr Borg said the least sensitive zone, about 750 square metres, had been specifically earmarked for filming.

Mepa wanted to send out a clear message that, while it welcomed the film industry and went all out to cater for its requests, production companies had to respect Malta’s regulations.

The €15,000 bank guarantee was considered “ridiculous” by environmental NGOs that pointed out Dwejra was a Natura 2000 site of geological, geomorphological, botanical and ornithological importance.

But Mepa explained it was a “rolling guarantee”, which meant up to €15,000 could be withdrawn for every infringement and it would have to be topped up to the original amount each time.

The production company could still be held liable for other damages through criminal and civil proceedings and the bank guarantee did not exonerate it from other penalties.

The sand used was from quarries, which was coarser and would have to be removed meticulously but it did not appear any had been washed into the sea by the storm – another concern.

Other historical locations used have been treated sensitively by the production company, which had understood its mistake and was cooperating, the authority officials said.

In a statement yesterday, Fire & Blood Productions regretted the “unfortunate incident” and said it was committed to continuing its positive experience in Malta while respecting the island’s cultural and natural heritage.

It has enlisted a local, supervised team to carry out the clean-up of the area manually.

“Once the work of the subcontractor was seen as utilising incorrect methods, all necessary precautions were immediately put in place to ensure the clean-up process ensues according to Mepa’s requirements and that no lasting and irreversible impact is left,” the production company said.

“We naturally value the environmental concerns associated with this issue and immediate rectification of the situation has been embarked upon,” producer Mark Huffam said.

Malta Film Commissioner Luisa Bonello said that, in its efforts to attract productions to Malta, the commission always sought a balance between benefitting from the spin-off effects and considering the impact on the islands’ natural and cultural heritage.

Ms Bonello pointed out that this was an isolated incident and the production company and countless others had repeatedly filmed all over the islands successfully, adhering to imposed conditions and leaving no negative impact. In fact, she said, the general rule is they tend to leave an area in a better state than prior to filming.

“While it is hoped this incident does not have negative repercussions on the smooth functioning of Malta’s film-servicing sector and its international reputation, on which future incoming productions hinge, the immediate major concern is that the environment will not suffer irreversibly and the production has confirmed the utmost is being done to ensure regulations are adhered to,” she said.

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