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MALTATODAY 4 April 2021

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 4 APRIL 2021 NEWS Favourable verdict for tourism complex on site of former fireworks factory despite earlier objection to having tourist facilities on Natura 2000 site JAMES DEBONO THE Environment and Resources Authority has dropped its original ob- jection to a proposed tourist complex on the site of a former explosives fac- tory in Dingli. Although considerably downscaled, the project still does not address the ERA's original concern about committing the dis- used factory to tourism-re- lated development, which could attract such future development in the pristine area. In a screening report on the current proposal, now proposed by Sunroute Ho- tels, the ERA said it favour- ably considers the 14-unit tourist complex as long as its impact can be mitigated. Sunroute currently oper- ates Hotel Santana in Qawra, and is owned by the heirs of Albert Sant of JB Stores. The 14 units will be spread over 10, one-floor blocks, each with its own outdoor pool and deck. The report said the downscaled de- sign's impacts are less significant and unlikely to warrant an Environment Impact Assessment. An EIA was al- ready conducted on the previous pro- posal, which was considerably larger. Originally, the ERA's objection in 2017 to the proposal – originally by Dirk Hili's La Toc Limited – was a warning against urban and commer- cial development being brought clos- er to an important stretch of coastal cliffs and the related protected areas. Significantly, ERA warned that in the future it would be difficult to contain the development within the committed area as the project would create a demand for ancillary devel- opment to support the intensified use such as "utility services and drainage systems, and longer-term develop- ment pressures to extend the estab- lished development." Even in its first reaction to the cur- rent development in September 2020, while welcoming the downscaling of the project, ERA said it did not sup- port the principle that the develop- ment "should serve as a pretext for committing sites for further develop- ment." The project will now have 20 car spaces, over a total site area of 6,200sq.m but with a gross floor area of 1,600sq.m. Although giving it its blessing, the ERA reminded developers that the site is potentially designated for a Dark Sky Heritage Area, and deemed the proposed illumination levels to be unacceptable. The explosives factory is also located within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is part of the EU's network of Natura 2000 sites. Originally, the project included two- floor units as well as a 64-car park. The new proposal has done away with a number of ancillary facilities, such as a water feature in the centre, a reception, restaurant, bar/lounge, kitchen, offices, gym and spa at the centre. Indeed the ERA said this was incom- patible with the overarching priority to effectively conserve the natural, ecological and scientific importance of this area, including its protected species. Planners who spoke to MaltaToday are still concerned that the project establishes a commitment on a site which was only developed as an ex- plosives factory since this had to be located as far away as possible from residential areas. As ERA had warned in September 2017, "experience has shown that commitments for development such as this proposal are almost irreversi- ble once they are allowed to become established". For this reason ERA in- sisted that such developments should only take place in designated prime tourism sites which are already locat- ed close to the strategic road network. As it happens, the infrastructure of the area is currently being upgraded through works being carried out by Infrastructure Malta. ERA U-turn on Dingli 'hotel' JAMES DEBONO A proposed roundabout in Burmarrad will damage an old reservoir connect- ed to an underground irrigation system used by several generations of farmers, the heritage authorities have warned. The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage is calling on Infrastructure Malta to relocate a roundabout on the Burmarrad main road, at a junction where a supermarket is being planned. The supermarket, located outside the development zones, is being proposed by construction firm Bonnici Brothers, which has plans for a residential devel- opment on a 5,800sq.m tract of land on the other side of the supermarket. The cultural heritage watchdog noted that the proposed works will "directly impact" on an adjacent water reservoir, located to the east of Triq Burmarrad and linked to agricultural activity in the area. Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg has denied that the roundabout was in- tended to benefit Bonnici Brothers, and reprimanded critics of the project for "not being honest when they said an old reservoir in the area was going to be removed". But the minister has been contradict- ed by the SCH: the watchdog had al- ready inspected the site and expressed concern "that the proposed roundabout will impinge directly onto this reservoir by extending proposed pavement over its footprint". The Superintendence made it clear that it objects to any impact on the res- ervoir and "strongly" recommended a realignment or relocation of the pro- posed roundabout. According to the SCH, this reservoir is part of a complex of structures abut- ting a large country house of consider- able architectural and vernacular value. Both the country house and the res- ervoir are clearly indicated in the 1897 Ordnance Survey Sheets, which con- firm their degree of antiquity and his- torical value. The historical value of the reservoir was confirmed during an inspection of the site by officers of the Superintendence. But while the SCH stood in defence of agricultural land in the area, the Envi- ronment and Resources Authority has given its go-ahead to the controversial project despite its over 6,000 objec- tions. "Given the nature of the proposed road works and the site context, the ERA has no major concerns for the pro- posal from an environmental point of view," the environment authority said. In November, a spokesperson for Infrastructure Malta confirmed with MaltaToday that part of the reservoir will be impacted by the works. The spokesperson explained that IM want- ed to raise the footpath along one side of the roundabout with ramps so that it goes over part of the reservoir, without having to dismantle it. However, the same spokesperson confirmed that one of the corners of the rectangular structure will need to be rebuilt in a new alignment to accom- modate the new stretch of cycle lane, which cannot be raised in the same way as the footpath. Superintendence contradicts minister on location of historic reservoir used by generations of farmers Burmarrad Watchdog says roundabout must be relocated Burmarrad farmers are joined by Graffitti and other activists in support of their cause

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