Times of Malta 11th November 2007 by Mark Micallef

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s planning directorate is recommending that the controversial proposal to build an extensive tourism complex at Ta’ Cenc be rejected – which would make it the second major development proposalin Gozo to get the thumbs down in a matter of weeks.

A report seen the The Sunday Times says that the project’s approval would prompt other developers to file similar proposals which the authority would then “find difficult to resist and would seriously erode the openness and rural character of the Gozitan landscape.”

It has been recommended for refusal on the grounds that Ta Cenc as a prospective heritage park is overshadowed by inappropriate intensive development for the area. The site is currently occupied by a low-level, five-star hotel which has 84 rooms.

The Mepa board is due to convene to give its final verdict in about six-weeks’s time, after the developer – hotel owner Victor Borg – has been given an opportunity to respond. The original application was filed in 1996, but has been amended considerably since then.

Mr Borg’s proposed project to extend the hotel into a fully fledged complex hit the headlines again this week, amid fresh calls for a consultation meeting. This demand was related to amendments made to the proposal being processed.

If, as expected, it is turned down, the project would be the second controversial development in Gozo to be axed in a matter of weeks, following Mepa’s reversal of its original decision over the Ramla l-Hamra project.

However, in the case of Ta’ Cenc, the tone for refusal was set a year ago when Environment Minister George Pullicino wrote to the authority over the interpretation of a sentence in the local plans.

The policy affecting the area says that development should be limited to the “vicinity of the existing Ta Cenc hotel” opening the door to interpretation over the word ‘vicinity’.

The minister wrote to Mepa clarifying the ambiguity, and insisted that the local plans should not be taken “in any way” as allowing new development in the area of Ta Cenc overlooking Mgarr ix-Xini.

The move effectively dealt a mortal blow to the most contentious part of the project, which involved the development of 57 villas in one of the more scenic areas of the site.

Since then, the developer filed an appeal against this interpretation and even reduced the number of proposed villas to 36. Yet, the directorate still deems the development unacceptable.

The authority also seems to have succumbed to EU pressure regarding the value of the site for migratory birds.