Reject the application for fireworks factory

I urge the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to reject the application for a permit for the construction of a fireworks factory at Tal-Għajn, Mellieħa. The application has been refused in previous years but an appeal is to held on Thursday (March 6).

The site in question consists of karstland supporting garigue, steppic and watercourse vegetation, among which are to be found the following endemic or threatened plant species: Anthyllis hermanniae ssp. melitensis, an endemic shrub; Euphorbia melitensis, an endemic shrub protected by Maltese law and dominating a habitat type protected by the European Habitats Directive; Lathyrus cicera, an annual that used to be common until the 1960s but that has now declined dramatically, with the Mellieħa ridge being one of its few remaining strongholds; Scirpoides holoschoenus, a rush that used to be common and is now becoming increasingly localised and infrequent, with a few relic clumps occurring within a shallow rocky valley cutting through the site.

Should the proposed development go ahead, all this biodiversity and wildlife habitat will be annihilated. And the damage will not be limited to the factory footprint: access roads for vehicles transporting construction and pyrotechnics raw materials and for fire-fighting vehicles in case of accidents will have to be opened up, thus levelling more countryside; and building debris will be dumped onto the surrounding karstland.

Some of the farmers who work the surrounding fields have expressed their safety concerns to me: fire­works factories keep exploding despite all safety precautions. And the farmers do not wish to spend their working hours in the shadow of a potential explosion. Apologists for the development might argue that a red flag will be hoisted as a warning when dangerous operations are being carried out on site.

Is it fair, or even practical, for farmers’ access to their fields to be subject to the whims of fireworks manufacturers? Farmers’ working hours are circumscribed by the vagaries of weather, and thus the farmers might have to be in their fields while the red flag is flying.

Also, such an accidental explosion could send bricks and boulders hurtling down onto the highway connecting Għadira Bay to the Mellieħa heights. And damage could be done to the Razzett tax-Xjaten (Devils’ Farmhouse), a prime specimen of vernacular architecture that is steeped in local myth and legend, and that has thus been rightfully afforded Grade 1 legal protection.

The site is also important for local agriculture as a water catchment area, being at the point where two watercourses meet: Wied tar-Randa and Wied tal-Ħanżira.

The factory would partially block the watercourse flow, thus preventing water from reaching farmers’ water storage facilities, and even block the faults in the rock (dagħbien) through which rain seeps before reaching the water table.

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