Times of Malta, 9th June 2008, by Mark Micallef –

The government has decided to grant €10,000 to the Qala local council to carry out a critical technical analysis of the environmental impact assessment made for the controversial Ħondoq ir-Rummien marina development.

The financial help, which the small Gozitan council is hoping will give it technical ammunition against the project, sets a precedent for the central administration in helping local councils fighting such battles.

The council had written to the Resources and Rural Affairs Ministry in April, pointing out that it was facing an unfair battle against the developers behind the Ħondoq project considering the council’s meager financial resources.

The council had been informed that two technical reports they had requested in order to rebut two of the seven areas of the EIA, would cost €10,000 – the equivalent of the council’s entire budget for this year.

“It was obvious at this point that if we didn’t get any financial help we would have had an unfair disadvantage in respect of the developers,” mayor Paul Buttigieg told The Times.

The ministry handed over the necessary funds last week, on condition that the experts writing the report are chosen through the standard government procurement procedures.

The mayor conceded that the reports could end up confirming the EIA findings, which in general supports the project.

However, he said the council has serious doubts about the social study and the traffic impact assessment contained within the EIA.

“We want the reports to analyse these two areas of the EIA because we seriously question them, especially the social study,” he said.

The controversy surrounding the project is long standing. In fact, when it was first proposed in 2002, the Qala local council had even held a referendum, spearheaded by parish priest Fr Karm Refalo, whereby 85 per cent of the residents voted to keep Ħondoq ir-Rummien bay free of development.

The plans were then stalled for some years but in 2006 the proposal reappeared in the form of a mega-project, which includes a hotel, 285 residential units and villas as well as the highly-contentious yacht marina. The local council has been battling it ever since.

“We’re very pleased with the government’s decision,” Mr Buttigieg said. “Whatever the outcome, the Qala residents and the people in general will be in a better position to evaluate the pros and cons of this development.”