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Żejtun residents fight to save 120,000 sq.m. of farmland

PN asks whether it is earmarked for medical cannabis company

About 120,000 square metres of land close to Żejtun is earmarked for development. Farmers who cultivate vines and other crops there have already been told to leave. Photos: Daniel Cilia

About 120,000 square metres of land close to Żejtun is earmarked for development. Farmers who cultivate vines and other crops there have already been told to leave. Photos: Daniel Cilia

Żejtun residents are circulating a petition as they gear up to fight the expansion of the Bulebel industrial estate onto a massive area of actively tended agricultural land.

About 120,000 square metres of land will be taken up by the development, displacing farmers who use the land to cultivate vines, potatoes and other crops.

Around 70 carob trees can also be found in the area, although they could be retained in the development.

The land is owned by the government, which has said the farmers, who have already received eviction notices, have no legal title to it. The farmers contend this is because their lease payments (qbiela) are not accepted.

About 120,000 square metres of land will be taken up by the expansion of the Bulebel industrial estate.About 120,000 square metres of land will be taken up by the expansion of the Bulebel industrial estate.

A photomontage of the expansion created for Wirt iż-Żejtun based on public statements by Malta Industrial Parks LtdA photomontage of the expansion created for Wirt iż-Żejtun based on public statements by Malta Industrial Parks Ltd

No formal application has yet been submitted, although the plans have been confirmed by Malta Industrial Parks Ltd, the State entity responsible for industrial zones.

A recent legal notice exempts MIP expansions from a full permit application and they can proceed with a development notification order, usually reserved for minor developments.

If the DNO procedure is employed, the project could be spared from environmental studies and public consultation requirements.

But even though the land is already designated as part of the industrial estate, the 2006 local plan recommends further studies “to determine the agricultural value of the area before any additional industrial development can be permitted”.

Reuben Abela, CEO of the heritage group Wirt iż-Żejtun, told the Times of Malta that the local plan highlighted the agricultural and ecological value of the land.

He added it was of great cultural importance to the local community, apart from having historical significance: the area was the site of the last Ottoman raid on the island, hosts a building linked to Grand Master Ramon Perellos (1697-1720) and bears remnants of military use during World War II.

Mr Abela said the group would continue to oppose the expansion, which, he noted, would bring the boundaries of the industrial estate much closer to nearby residences.

The PN also weighed in on the issue, pleading with the government to drop its plans – and demanding to know which companies were interested in the land.

It asked the government to reveal whether one of those companies was involved with the production of medical cannabis.

Denying farmers’ their livelihood would go against the government’s own policies, three of the Opposition members argued, saying that the prime minister was being short with the truth when he said that the land had been earmarked for industrial development.

The PN said that the strategic development plan for the islands laid down that agricultural land could not be handed over for development without a study, and unless certain conditions were met, noting that the Local Plan for the south identified this particular tract of land as being of “high-grade agricultural value”.

MPs Jason Azzopardi, Marthese Portelli and Edwin Vassallo called on the prime minister to carry out and publish a study, identifying its authors.

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