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Bastions, batteries and beachrooms

Illegal structures located within the buffer zone at Is-Sur tal-Ahrax mar the historical setting while enjoying government supplied utilities. Informal recreation will be encouraged in the buffer zones surrounding the bastions and Vendome Battery on the point between Ramlet il-Qortin and Armier Bay.

Illegal structures located within the buffer zone at Is-Sur tal-Ahrax mar the historical setting while enjoying government supplied utilities. Informal recreation will be encouraged in the buffer zones surrounding the bastions and Vendome Battery on the point between Ramlet il-Qortin and Armier Bay.

If past behaviour is anything to go by, the question of illegal "boathouses" which mushroomed into shanty towns under various administrations is likely to prove the thorn in the crown of the Marfa Action Plan. These first-come-first-grab holiday homes have evolved into communities with their own festas, monuments and - if the call should arise - their own bulldozers too.

Five areas have been allocated for the provision of beachroom holiday accomodation for the annual migration to seaside dwellings which has become a hallmark of our domestic tourism. In some cases these fairly overlap the existing developed footprint. An abandoned quarry will also be made use of for beachrooms and boat storage.

The 12 criteria under which this proposal is made say that the clusters of accomodation must be designed with adequate provision for car parking and refuse disposal. Basement storage of boats is to be permitted in specific areas where the garage below may be let separately from the accomodation above.

Details concerning sewage disposal must be approved by the Drainage Department before any development permit is issued. Community facilities such as a café, games room or camp shop may be included in the layout although the beachrooms themselves may not be used as either commercial premises or permanent residences.

An area of five by 12 metres maximum footprint might be considered excessive by some when the rooms are intended as basic summer camping rooms and not second homes. Twice the number of families could make use of the beachrooms if they were half the size at an ample 30 square metres.

A wider approach to the protection and development of Marfa Ridge could have attempted to make better use of the land to be taken up by beachrooms. Empty for most of the winter months, these could be let out, perhaps on a rotary system to applicants, while serving a dual use for eco-tourists during the shoulder months. This would tie in with the strategy of the more general plan for the North West of Malta which specifically promotes a more sustainable tourist product.

When one considers how this land was snatched from the public by selfish individuals, aided and abetted by successive governments, it seems scandalous that it is not to be returned to its original state as far as possible. The plan acts on the premise that the damage is irreversible.

A management organisation is to be appointed by Government to design, administer and implement the beachroom developments with initial funding to be replaced by income from leasing of land and beachrooms.

The plan also favours demolition of the disused NATO facility at the western tip of the ridge where a picnic site may be developed. The planning authority supports and encourages the Department of Agriculture to provide additional woodland conservation and gradual replacement of inappropriate tree species around the site.

Proposals for animal breeding farms would need to comply with international standards to ensure against nitrate pollution of ground water. The Action Plan promotes the implementation of cycle routes. A number of footpaths are identified and will be protected. Other activities such as horse-riding facilities may be permitted. Soil-dumping and off-roading will not be allowed on garrigue areas.

Policy RCO 13 proposes controls over hunting, trapping and other activities adversely affecting the local wildlife especially threatened species. These objectives will only be achieved if MEPA and the Mellieha council appoint permanent green wardens in the area as part of an integrated management plan.

To improve access to heritage sites and provide a link with other important sites on Marfa Ridge a heritage trail has been proposed. Historical features in the area include a series of 18th and early 20th century coastal fortifications, traditional rural stone huts (giren), and some archeological features. Sixteen scheduled pillboxes are dotted along the coast and clifftops.

A management plan for the trail is urgently required and the co-operation of the Education Department, Museums Department, Lands Department, local councils and NGOs as well as hotels will be needed to implement it.

Achieving the plan's objectives within the eight-year period it covers will primarily be the joint responsibility of government, the local council and the planning authority.

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