7 December 2009, Times of Malta, by Ivan Camilleri –

The European Commission has given Malta three weeks to send an updated report on the situation of the proposed development at Ta’ Ċenċ.

The issue was raised last week at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee when the petition filed by Martin Galea, on behalf of Din l-Art Ħelwa and featuring over 10,000 signatures, and by Alternattiva Demokratika, on the protection of the Ta’ Ċenċ site, was discussed.

A Commission official said that while Malta satisfied its obligations to declare the zone as a special protected area, they were still awaiting an updated report on the proposed development and its possible impact on the environment.

He said that, during a meeting in October, an update on the authorisation procedure for an extension of an existing development was presented. The Maltese authorities, he said, indicated that the latest proposal submitted by the applicant (the owner of the Ta’ Ċenċ Hotel) represented a significant re-dimension of the original development and this could be regarded as a positive shift.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority had requested an update of the environment impact assessment and an assessment regarding natural values. It was waiting for the studies to be concluded before a final decision on the revised project could be taken, the Commission representative said.

Replying to questions by Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil, the Commission’s representative said Brussels would only be able to take a final position following the analysis of impact studies that would be handed over by Maltese authorities.

“We have asked for a written update… including information on the original negative opinion by authorities and information as to how the relevant provisions of the EIA and the Habitats Directive are being implemented,” the official told Dr Busuttil.

“When we receive all the studies and reports we requested we can take a position,” he added.

During the discussion, Dr Busuttil urged the Commission to continue monitoring the situation and reach a conclusion as soon as possible. “This issue has been dragging for far too long and the 10,000 petitioners deserve a clear reply to their concerns,” Dr Busuttil said.

On Dr Busuttil’s request, the committee decided to leave the petition open so it could go back to it once progress on the proposed development was registered.

Ta’ Ċenċ has been under constant observation by the Commission for the past years after complaints that any development there would cause irreparable damage to the site’s unique environment.

Following the rejection of the original plans to extend the existing hotels and build new villas in the area, the developer submitted fresh plans to Mepa with a scaled down project.

The Commission said it was expecting developments on this issue by Mepa in the beginning of the new year.