Land Speculation at White Rocks

Having first class sports facilities in Malta is an objective which everyone shares. Hence the point at issue, in my view, is not whether a sports complex should be developed but how this can be done and the manner in which it should be financed.

The government has opted for direct negotiations with the selected partners. Was it right in directly selecting the proposed developers and negotiating away from the spotlight of tendering rules and procedures which a normal democratic society imposes?

My view is that the method of selection clearly indicates the government’s disdain for transparency and accountability, even if the final deal will eventually be presented for Parliament’s approval. Removing the major part of the process from the continuous scrutiny of the public institutions set up purposely for their examination, is a clear indication of what could lie in store. Comments have already surfaced as to the ethical credentials of those selected as partners.

An eventual agreement will consist of two elements: the provision of the sports facilities and a prime site residential development consisting of around 300 residential units. The second element is intended to finance the first, the land being made available by the taxpayer through publicly-owned land.

Three documents need to be examined in order to identify the applicable parameters and the considerations to be made.

The first document of relevance is the Development Brief for the White Rocks site issued by the then Planning Authority in 1995. Even if then the proposed development was for an “upmarket tourism project” the development parameters drawn up are of extreme relevance to today’s discussion.

The site, the brief informs us, has a total area of 36.9 hectares. This is subdivided into three zones. Zone 1, having an area of 38 per cent of the total, consists of the existing holiday complex and its facilities. Zone 2 (39 per cent of the area) consists of a mixed garigue and rocky coastline, including the marine environment and archaeological resources. Zone 3 (23 per cent of the area) consists of agricultural land.

The 1995 brief laid out that only Zone 1 was to be released for development. The brief identified one exception: an underground structure in Zone 2 which was to be rehabilitated and in respect of which no extension of its footprint was to be considered.

The second document of relevance to the White Rocks site is the North Harbour Local Plan approved in August 2006. This document, in addition to ignoring any development potential of the White Rocks site, defines it as a “green wedge”. Now, to my mind this means that no development is permissible on the site.

The third document of relevance is the Habitats Directive of the EU applicable to these islands as of May 2004. Zone 1 of the White Rocks site is adjacent to a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which has been so declared by Malta and approved by the EU Commission. This spills over into Zone 2 described above.

Now the only development permissible in SACs is that which is necessary for the management of the site. The Habitats Directive further lays down that activities on sites adjacent to SACs are restricted too, such that they serve as a buffer zone and are not the indirect cause of damage to the said SACs.

If the above parameters are adhered to, it is not at all clear which sports facilities can be developed on the White Rocks site. Given that Zone 1 covers 38 per cent of the total area, the space is limited both in terms of area as well as in terms of potential for the development of sports facilities. This would leave unanswered questions as to where the 300 projected residential units intended as payment for services rendered by the developing consortium are to be built.

One hopes that in planning the development of the sports complex the limits identified in the 1995 development brief will not be ignored.

Given the development parameters established in 1995, to which one must now add the responsibilities derived from the EU Habitats Directive of the European Union, it is doubtful whether the White Rocks site is suitable for development as a sports complex of the extent indicated by the Prime Minister and other government spokesmen.

Furthermore, it is neither possible nor acceptable to develop 300 residential units on the site to settle the costs of this development.

This is just land speculation in its crudest form. In an overdeveloped Malta the least one expects is a government engaging in speculative development in order to settle its bills and simultaneously claiming that the environment is one of its main policy pillars!

One wonders whose advice government is listening to. At times it seems that it has retained its Xagħra l-Ħamra advisors: those that had convinced it to promote a golf course without having first understood its environmental implications. Governments never learn.

published in The Times of Malta, July 3, 2010

One comment on “Land Speculation at White Rocks

  1. At a time when our major concerns should really be strategies to manage the tough environmental challenges ahead, our government either seems to think otherwise, or still does not comprehend the degree of implications ahead.
    Rather, it goes on with business as usual projects and fails to reach a consensus with the visionaries and researchers that really mean well in safeguarding the future of our islands.
    What the Maltese islands need is a nationwide plan for awareness raising and strategic implementation on tackling issues such as food and energy security and soil and water conservation. Understanding the global energy scenario and our immense vulnerability related to that is also a key component.
    Water challenges such as harvesting, saving, keeping, using and soil challenges such as restructuring, holding, using. Ethical land-stewardship, where the future matters and a total shift of our complete outlook to a small island lifestyle. The degradation of our unique islands by our sloppiness, careless actions and projection of further resource depleting projects is unacceptable.
    Its not only unacceptable to have governments not addressing these issues seriously, its criminality beyond sane imagination. Cosmetic projects at the cost of further degradation of the natural environment in the face of a changing climate is a disservice to the Maltese nation.
    Both the NP and LP need to get their act together on this and confront the real issues. Chasing vote strategies are pathetic.
    Enough with the exploitation of our little natural resources, they are not ours to destroy anyway. There are urgent issues that need dealing with, and building sports complexes on little remaining green wedges is definitely not one of them. We’ve been experiencing too many broken promises.It’s time to change that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s