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Plan for three office blocks in Wied Għomor

Council, NGOs object to proposals

The developers’ photomontage of the proposed office blocks in Wied Għomor.

The developers’ photomontage of the proposed office blocks in Wied Għomor.

Updated 12.15pm - Added FAA statement

There appears to be no end in sight for the development creeping on Wied Għomor, with new plans submitted for three office blocks instead of a disused farm in the heart of the protected valley.

The site, which is outside development zones, currently holds three blocks, which were at some point used as a cow farm. 

The new application, currently being assessed by the Planning Authority, would convert the buildings into office space, excavate parking facilities and pave over a substantial area of land between the blocks.

Environmental groups and the Swieqi local council, as well as some 100 members of the public, have submitted objections, arguing that planning policy bars ODZ development except for designated rural activities, mostly related to agriculture.

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, one of the objectors, said the project would “severely compromise these ecologically sensitive areas and result in their eventual ruin through incremental urbanisation”.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has warned against the development, which it said would result in “inevitable visual impacts and scarring of the natural surrounding areas”.

“The existing disused cow farm should not be used as a pretext for the construction of industrial buildings and further interventions in this site,” the authority said.

READ: Will Wied Għomor be gobbled up by development?

“ERA is concerned that approval of industrial uses for this development application would risk setting an undesirable precedent for similar proposals in the area, activities which could easily be located within suitably designated industrial or urban zones.”

The Swieqi local council and Din L-Art Ħelwa raised concerns over the valley’s wildlife, which it said would be disturbed by the increased activity and artificial light from the offices, as well as increased flooding due to the hard paving and the capacity of the narrow country roads to deal with increased traffic.

The council added that the design of the new offices was barely an improvement on the current “repugnant” blocks, describing it as an “arrogant imposition on an ODZ valley, in complete disregard for the quality of the surroundings or for the natural environment, which is unfortunately under constant pressure for development”.

The surrounding local councils of Swieqi, San Ġwann and St Julian’s have for years been caught in a struggle to stave off development in Wied Għomor, a scheduled area of ecological and scientific importance.

Just last week, St Julian’s deputy mayor Albert Buttigieg sounded the alarm over four applications – including a seven-storey apartment block on the valley side – submitted in a matter of weeks, questioning whether the area was being “turned into a slum”.

Construction fast-tracked, conservation slowed - FAA

In a statement decrying the plans, eNGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar asked why the government seemed to be dragging its feet when it came to granting Wied Għomor public domain status. 

Environment Minister Jose Herrera had called for the valley to be included in a list of public domain sites in April last year, but the Planning Authority subsequently said that the request had been made after a cut-off date and would have to wait at least 12 months. 

"Wied Għomor will be addressed in the process of preparing the Public Domain Annual Report for 2018," a PA spokesman had said in July 2017

There has been no progress on the matter since then. 

In its statement issued on Tuesday, FAA compared the slow pace of implementing environmental measures to the way in which major construction projects were often fast-tracked. 

"While massive projects which lead to intensification of urban density are rushed through in a matter of months, a measure to save an urban lung between St. Julians and San Gwann is put on a permanent backburner. What is the cause of this discrimination?" the eNGO asked. 

It dimissed a €3 million study commissioned by the Health Ministry to better learn how our lifestyles affected our health as a waste of taxpayers' money. 

"Why are we spending this money to find out what we already know- that residents are forced to lead unhealthy lifestyles because of government policies militating against open air spaces and nature?"

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