Maltatoday, 14th September 2008, by Matthew Vella and David Darmanin –

Fresh new plans on the controversial Ta’ Cenc Hotel expansion have been described by NGOs as an ‘improvement’ over the previous plans for development at Ta’ Cenc cliffs.

Conservationist groups Din l-Art Helwa, Wirt Ghawdex, and BirdLife Malta all held separate meetings with Ta’ Cenc Hotel owner Victor Borg on the fresh plans which were submitted to MEPA but not published on its internet site.
The meetings were the subject of a press conference held by Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday, which said the information presented in the meeting should have been made more public.

Giovanni Zammit, the secretary of Wirt Ghawdex, said there had been “considerable improvements” on the plans presented by Victor Borg.
“All NGOs present for the meetings agreed that there has been progress on the plans,” Zammit said. He said his personal opinion was that the objectionable points on the first plans had been greatly improved upon, such as building over the ridge and the distance between the hotel and the cliffs.

Contacted by MaltaToday, the director of Din l-Art Helwa, Petra Bianchi, said the group had attended a meeting on 3 September.
“Overall, we think there have been significant improvements in the fresh plans presented, but there are also concerns that are still to be discussed. This is why we haven’t made our position clear and public yet, but after we complete discussions with the other NGOs, we will release an official position.”
Bianchi said the development at Tal-Gruwa site had been brought back and the hotel extension brought down to a height of one storey, in some places to two-storeys, but in any case similar in style to the current set-up at Ta’ Cenc.
She also said the heritage park had been extended, and an area earmarked for agri-tourism. But the Mgarr ix-Xini area, which was earmarked for villas, was left out of the new plans, because Borg has appealed the decision by MEPA that turned down the development. “We feel this should have been included as plans need to be looked at holistically… With regards to the bird sanctuary, we’re discussing with BirdLife as this is their area of competence.”

BirdLife’s executive director Tolga Temuga said it was still too early to clarify the NGO’s official position on the new plans. “We are hoping to complete our position paper by next week, after which we shall be issuing a joint statement.
“At face value, the new plans look better than the previous ones, but there are still issues that we are discussing. There are major issues with flora and garigue to be looked into, as well as other aspects, such as legal ones. There is of course the ornithological aspect that we are delving into.”

Victor Borg who also met the mayor of Sannat, Anthony Mercieca. AD yesterday accused Mercieca of not informing residents of the council’s stand on the new plans.

“It seems the Labour mayor opted to remain silent on this national issue. Such a stand is unacceptable in this time and year considering the national and international importance of Ta’ Cenc,” AD chairperson Arnold Cassola said.
Cassola said AD was eagerly awaiting press statements from the NGOs which attended the meetings.

AD also asked that the PN and MLP declare their stance on the Ta’ Cenc development. “The Ta’ Cenc issue is currently subject to a pending infringement procedure opened against Malta by the Commission relates to an insufficient Special Protection Area designation for Ta’ Cenc. The Maltese taxpayer should not be asked to fork out money for fines due to negligence from the Maltese authorities.”

Ta’ Cenc is a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) for its breeding seabird colonies of Yelkouan Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, and European Storm-petrels.