NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Ramblers’ Association, Friends of the Earth (Malta), Din l-Art Helwa, NatureTrust Malta, MOAM, Sustainable Built Environment, Youth for the Environment, Greenhouse Malta, Kunsill Studenti Universitarji, Kopin, Gender Liberation, Graffitti, Zminijietna, Wirt iz-Zejtun and the Jesuits all echo the concerns expressed by the Għaqda Bajja San Tumas re the proposal to build an supposed agro-tourism development at Munxar/Xrobb l-Għagin. This is an Area of High Landscape Value, Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance, abutting on the ODZ area designated for a National Park in the current South Malta Local Plan 2006.
The organisations are not against genuine agro-tourism, however a project of over 2,000 sq m on virgin land defeats the very purpose of agro-tourism, as any construction project this size would destroy a significant stretch of undisturbed natural landscape. This confirms the concerns voiced by eNGOs that in spite of the claimed restrictions imposed by MEPA’s new rural policy, it would simply be used as screen to develop in the countryside. In fact, this project is proposing to build administration offices, tourist accommodation, beach pontoon, swimming pool, a beauty and therapy salon, fitness centre, a wine bar, an activity hall and workshops, a restaurant and a fully equipped conference centre to cater for multi-purpose events. Most of these facilities have nothing to do with any real agro-tourism. The tag is simply being used to disguise a hotel development.
Such a project would have a severe negative impact on the visual integrity of the park, would require roads to be created to service the complex, and could create light and noise pollution in the area. The proposal to build a campus at Zonqor would already deprive the area and Malta of one stretch of virgin land; Malta can’t afford to lose more.
The NGOs firmly believe that no part of the ODZ is expendable for tourism projects; priority should be given to the redevelopment of abandoned prime sites given over to tourism such as the nearby Jerma Hotel, which lies derelict. Malta is so small that the stated agro-tourism activities can be conducted with tourists accommodated in nearby vacant properties, of which there is no shortage. This would create a genuine national benefit.
The fact that seventeen NGOs have come together on this issue shows how concern about the environment and quality of life is growing across every sector of society. Environment is very closely bound to social justice; is the public to be deprived of their areas of free, healthy recreation for the enrichment of the few? Physical and mental health and well-being depends on exposure to nature and the availability of unbuilt green areas for exercise and recreation. If these are to be sacrificed all over Malta, the authorities are putting short-term profit for the few before the health of the nation, which is totally unacceptable. This government is acting in the in favour of vested interests, not for the good of the Maltese public.