Times of Malta, 17th June 2008 –

Wonders never cease in this little Clochemerle-like republic of ours. On Monday week I read that the Qala local council has successfully applied to the government for a grant to finance a study to counteract what is being proposed by developers for Ħondoq ir-Rummien; namely €10,000 for a technical study when, in my humble opinion, none is needed to realise that a hotel plus 285 units, including villas plus a yacht marina, will be the death knell of one of Gozo’s loveliest beauty spots. You could have knocked me down with a feather.

One may say that €10,000 is not much. However, all the same it is coming out of our taxes and if this becomes a trend it is an obvious conclusion that, with all the projects in the offing all over Malta and Gozo, we will be paying out oodles of dosh to state the obvious. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is nothing but a ghastly waste of money. Nothing can justify it. It is bureaucracy gone mad.

Since then, the Ħondoq controversy has actually captured the imagination of the schoolchildren who met George Pullicino last week and asked him to control urban development specifically mentioning Ramla Bay and Ħondoq ir-Rummien. The event, Dinja Waħda, was organised by Bank of Valletta and BirdLife and aims at including even children in the drive towards saving our environment. I find all this very touching and all that, however, we need some action and fewer words. Incidentally, Minister Pullicino, when are we getting those energy-saving bulbs that were promised us pre-election?

To get back to Ħondoq, just over a week ago, a group of friends and I left our cars in Ċirkewwa and crossed over to Gozo. The intention was to walk from Mġarr to Ħondoq along the cliff-face. It was a beautiful walk. Geologically, Gozo is so quirkily different to Malta. It seems to have been made of a different material and fashioned by a different hand to Malta; it is poetically dramatic and unique and, yet, we are destroying it piecemeal. The artistic editing that must be exercised every time we paint in Gozo is becoming more drastic.

The pungent scent of the wild thyme that at this time of the year is a mass of bright ecclesiastical purple flowers, was overpowering and beneath us huge boulders lay petrified in the act of tumbling off the steep slopes in the shimmering golden sea like genial primeval monsters. After an exhilarating swim in the still freezing but crystalline turquoise water of a cove shaped just like a miniature fjord a couple of hundred metres off Ħondoq, we arrived at the place itself. We sat sipping welcomingly refreshing tea and munching Twistees in the mercifully still primitive bar, surrounded by all the wonderful springtime beauty that not even the scarring of an old quarry could mar. The very idea of having such extensive development in a spot such as this became more of a repugnant enormity than ever.

From Ħondoq itself we climbed up the steep zig-zagged road that leads to Qala occasionally looking back to be knocked out by such a magnificent view. As we gained height, Comino lay beneath us, the Blue Lagoon lighting up the bland stony islands like a cabochon-cut sapphire. Already the outskirts of Qala are marred by new buildings as it is obvious that the competition to enjoy the most exhilaratingly lovely panoramas in the archipelago must be fierce indeed.

The people of Qala are under siege. The controversy about this development has been raging since 2002 when the parish priest held an informal referendum in which 85 per cent of the Qala residents voted against the project. That should have been quite enough to stymie the project for good and all; at least that is what common sense dictates. But, no; six years later the project still could be a ghastly reality tomorrow and the Qala council has had to resort to the Ministry for Rural Affairs to finance its own study to maybe forestall the irrevocable tragic ruination of Ħondoq once and for all.

One cannot but admire the pit bull-like tenacity of the developers but this time they have gone far too far. Isn’t it enough that both Xlendi and Marsalforn have been shorn of all of their natural beauty because of unchecked weed-like urban sprawl? Must Ħondoq go the same insidious way?

Who is calling the shots here? I simply fail to understand how or why the project still exists, on paper or otherwise, when, clearly, the people are against it and anyone with the slightest aesthetic sense can see that such a project would be nothing but an abomination. Before granting sums of money over and above budget to local councils to fight developers on a level playground becomes an epidemic I would ask the Prime Minister to look into this dangerous precedent. Is there not enough “natural” opposition to the project to render any additional EIA a bureaucratic superfluity?

Hands off Ħondoq ir-Rummien, which should remain as it is forever; a beautiful bathing spot sheltered by lovely countryside and with breathtaking views that are to be enjoyed by all as part of our common environmental heritage.