The Malta Independent on Sunday, 8th June 2008, by David Lindsay –
The controversy over the illegal scrapyard still operating in Wied Zembaq, Birzebbuga – in contravention of enforcement orders after 15 years – has made its way to the European Parliament by way of Joseph Muscat, who was meanwhile busy campaigning for the Labour leadership post.

On 20 May, Dr Muscat requested the European Commission for its comments on the case – highlighting the fact that even though enforcement proceedings against the illegal scrapyard have been underway since as far back as 1993, which has plagued the current Mepa appeals process, as the scrapyard had been given a trade licence in 2004 and had also been awarded government contracts.

As pointed out to the Commission by Dr Muscat, the extremely unsightly scrapyard spilling over into Wied Zembaq is located within 300 metres of the prehistoric sites of Borg in-Nadur and Ghar Dalam. It also lies within a designated Rural Conservation Area, an Area of Ecological Value and is designated as a Site of Scientific Importance.

The whole of Wied Zembaq and its environs are also archaeologically sensitive and have been designated as a Heritage Park by the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan.

Mepa had first sought to take action against the development as far back as 1993 but the process has been hampered by a seemingly unending series of appeals against Mepa enforcement notices.

And after 15 years of enforcements and appeals, the scrapyard continues to operate unhindered, causing untold environmental harm and blighting an otherwise scenic valley in the process.

The appeals board is set to hear the case again on 25 July.

In January the board heard how the scrapyard had been given a trading licence despite the fact that it had no permission to exist in the first place.

The scrapyard owner’s legal representation, Raphael Fenech Adami, had offered to present contracts the government had awarded to the scrapyard dating back 60 years.

However, according to Mepa aerial photographs the scrapyard has not even been in existence for 30.

It is claimed the scrapyard has been awarded recent contracts by the Malta Transport Authority and Malta Shipyards.

Mepa is refusing to approve the illegal scrapyard on several grounds, including that the operations “represent unacceptable urban development in the countryside” as it stated when it when it dismissed the last application for the development of the site as a scrapyard in 2004.

Mepa had found when turning down the development application at the time that, “the direct conflict between the activity taking place and the site upon which it is being carried out cannot be emphasised more. The activity is purely industrial and as such should be located in an industrial zone; on the other hand the site is designated as a Rural Conservation Area and in this sense should be protected from any harmful impacts.”

Mepa also pointed out that the likely impacts are physical overspill into the valley, leakages through the ground, which are made worse by the presence of chrome, as well as its adverse visual impact.

Mepa on its part explains it has been working with Malta Industrial Parks Ltd and the scrapyard’s owner with a view to relocating the abusive scrapyard. The incentive for the owner to relocate, however, is doubtful since a new site would undoubtedly require the payment of rent.

Mepa points out that over the past years it has consistently refused permission for the development, and that it has issued two enforcement notices against the illegality.

It also stresses that it fully agrees the illegal scrapyard is an inconvenience to neighbouring residents and the area’s natural heritage but that its hands are currently tied since the case is sub judice.

Mepa added earlier this year, “The Authority has the obligation and duty to respect the rights of all citizens to fully make use of the legal institutions that allow them to present their case.”

But it is this very obligation to the legal process that has time and time again exasperated Mepa and its efforts to crack down on abusive developments, with developers playing the system for years on end.