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MALTATODAY 9 January 2022

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JANUARY 2022 NEWS JAMES DEBONO GĦAXAQ'S band clubs Għaqda Mużikali San Guzepp and Għaq- da Mużikali Santa Marija have warned that the approval of a brand new fireworks factory in the il-Ħbula area in Ħal-Għaxaq could spell the end of fireworks displays in their village, due to the loss of a site used for the let- ting of fireworks during the lo- cality's two feasts. The Planning Authority board is set to decide on the proposed fireworks factory proposed by Tarxien's pyrotechnic society on 3 February, after a technical committee certified that as pro- posed the factory abides to all safety regulations. The 9,000sq.m site where the factory is proposed is outside development zones in the limits of Għaxaq, 250m away from the Santu Kristu chapel. Għaxaq's St Joseph band club, which dates back to 1919 and has 640 members, has pointed out the factory stores are be- ing proposed just 83m from a site used to let off fireworks for the Għaxaq feast. The society warned that storing explosives in the vicinity of a site used for letting off fireworks could re- sult in incidents like the 2016 Marsaxlokk incident, which left four people seriously injured. The society insisted that it had already relocated its firing site from the Tal-Ġebel area, due to sprawling development in the locality and further relocation is impossible. "Since no alternative exists, the issue of this permit would indirectly mean the clo- sure of Għaxaq's own fireworks factory which has operated since 1919… with approval resulting in the loss of an integral part of the feast and the loss of the her- itage traditions which form our identity." And while supporting the issue of new permits for fireworks fac- tories to preserve this tradition, this should not entail the loss of firing sites used by established fireworks organisations, the so- ciety warned. The St Mary band club also noted the irony of approving the fireworks factory which threat- ens the locality's feast, while Malta is seeking world heritage recognition for its fireworks dis- plays. The Għaxaq local council is also objecting to the proposed factory, not just because of its impact on the firing site, but al- so because it poses a high risk to residents, industrial buildings, two chapels and a cemetery with religious and historical signifi- cance, and an active agricultural community that surrounds the site. The application by Tarxien's Għaqda tan-Nar San Gabriel foresees the development of a brand-new fireworks factory on a 9,000sq.m agricultural site. A case officer originally rec- ommended the application for refusal in 2013, but the decision was postponed, pending the ap- proval of a new policy regulating fireworks factories, which was approved in 2014. The application was also giv- en the thumbs-up by an ad hoc technical committee of experts, set up to assess the safety aspects of new fireworks factories. The committee noted that over the past years, the proposal had been continuously revised in or- der to comply with all relevant regulations in a way that would minimise the risk and dangers within the perimeter of the pro- posed fireworks factory. Enemalta had also objected to the proposed fireworks factory in 2013 and in 2017, but dropped its objections after committing itself to remove overhead elec- tricity lines in the area. The development is recom- mended for approval because the 2014 policy allows new fire- works factories on dry, agricul- tural land if these are granted prior approval by the ad hoc committee, which includes the Civil Protection Department, police and the army. The nearby chapel can accom- modate over 100 people but is located outside the 183m radius from habitable areas in which new fireworks factories are for- bidden. And although a house and some other structures are lo- cated within the radius, at law "inhabited places" are defined as aggregations of houses inhabited by over 100 persons. While acknowledging the "fur- ther intensification of develop- ment within an ODZ area" as well as the take-up of good agri- cultural land that could compro- mise an Area of High Landscape Value, the Planning Authority's case officer recognised that the factory cannot be located with- in building zones, for safety rea- sons. And the existing policy also allows ODZ fireworks factories, unless the area is recognised as an Area of Ecological or Scientif- ic Importance. The fireworks factory struc- tures are based on required spe- cific distances between stores, processing rooms and other structures, the criteria of which are determined by the technical committee. The PA's own advisory com- mittee on agriculture objected in principle, but since the fire- works factory policy permits fac- tories on dry agricultural land, the committee proposed the imposition of a planning gain to be used for the rehabilitation of agricultural land. The firing site used by Ghaxaq's festa clubs is located just 83m from the proposed main stores for the new Tarxien society factory Ghaxaq could lose fireworks if new factory is approved

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