The Malta Independent on Sunday 13 April 2008, by David Lindsay –
Appeals from the developers of two of the most controversial proposed developments in Gozo, if not the country – Ta’ Cenc and the Ulysses Lodge – are to be heard by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority appeals board on the same day, 27 June.Although recommendations to refuse permission have been given in both cases – the Ulysses Lodge application already having rejected by the Mepa Development Control Commission and a decision on Ta’ Cenc still pending – neither has been permanently shelved and both still stand a chance of seeing the light of day.

A third major development in Gozo, the Qala Creek tourist village and yacht marina at Hondoq ir-Rummien, is also expected to be brought back on the agenda at some point this year, still lingering as it is at the environmental impact assessment stage.

The question is how the projects would or would not jar with the Prime Minister’s vision for sustainable development as the new head of Mepa and the electoral pledge of transforming Gozo into an “eco-island”. All three projects have been met with stiff opposition from environmental movements. Environmentalists speaking to this newspaper fear that the projects in question had simply been postponed until after the election and that a decision could now be taken without the fear of immediate political repercussions.

In October, a Mepa board unanimously threw out the Ulysses Lodge re-development on the basis that a public road cuts through the proposed development, perched in between the picturesque Ramla Bay and overlooking Calypso’s Cave, meaning that the developers did not own all the land being requested for development.

Detractors of the project speaking to this newspaper fear the would-be developers have found a way around the issue, which they will be proposing at the appeals hearing on 27 June.

The owners had applied for the demolition of the existing tourist and entertainment complex, known as Ulysses Lodge, and the construction of 23 self-catering villa-style residential units with underground parking spaces, sub-stations and pools. The site in question covers an area of around 40,000 square metres on a clay slope below the Xaghra plateau.

The proposed Ta’ Cenc development has not yet been dismissed by Mepa and June’s appeal deals with a technicality. In November a development permit application report recommended refusing permission, a recommendation now before the Development Control Commission, which is still to set a hearing date. The 27 June hearing relates to an appeal against a letter and was lodged in September 2006.

The proposed project encompasses a proposed 57 bungalows, 49 villas, a five-storey hotel, an extension of the existing hotel by 66 units and the possibility of further development is still festering.

The Qala Creek project, meanwhile, is still at the environmental impact assessment stage. The developers are proposing the “construction of a destination port comprising hotel, yacht marina and tourist village” at the 68 square kilometre site.

Six years after the controversial Qala Creek development was shelved in 2002 following vociferous protests from the nearby village of Qala, and a referendum among residents that saw 85 per cent voting against it, the project is still on the drawing board.

The project proposal was submitted once again in December 2005 and presented to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) in January 2006.

The proposed developers intend spending some €90 million on the project if approved.

The beach is perhaps one of the most popular in Gozo, boasting some of the cleanest waters around the whole of the islands, while it additionally provides one of the few, if only, safe place to swim when Gozo experiences the prevailing majjistral (northwest) winds.

Opponents insist the pristine waters will become polluted as a result of heavy yacht traffic passing just metres away from the beach and, although the sandy beach has not been included in the development as such, it and the entire surrounding area will suffer and be visually marred as a result of the development.

The development, if approved, is to be wrapped up by 2010 and would comprise a five-star 170-room hotel, 25 villas, 60 self-catering units, 200 multi-ownership residences, a ‘village centre’ with a small church, administration offices, small-scale shops and restaurants and the 100-150 vessel marina.