Simar Nature Reserve under threat again

July 7, 2023 10:16 am

A new application proposing to transform a bungalow at Triq il-Pwales in Xemxija into a seven-storey block of apartments in front of Simar Nature Reserve has been filed within a couple of weeks of BirdLife Malta calling a press conference in relation to the insensitive approval of two other planning applications of a similar nature. Earlier in June, BirdLife Malta had condemned the Planning Authority (PA) for permitting such developments as well as criticized the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) for not raising much concerns on the matter.

In a press conference held on the 8th of June, BirdLife Malta had also published a photomontage showing what the area at Triq il-Pwales risks transforming into, just across the street from the entrance to Simar Nature Reserve. In reaction to such, the Planning Authority had issued a statement saying the photomontage was misleading and accusing BirdLife Malta of confusing readers over the prospects of the approved development. It only however took a couple of weeks to prove the reality of the situation, with now PA/03475/23 being lined for a decision this coming October.

Yet another bungalow proposed to become a 7-storey apartment block

A copy of submitted plans by architects showing the before and after situation of a two-storey maisonette in front of Simar Nature Reserve, continuing the trend of seven to eight-storey apartment blocks at Triq il-Pwales, Xemxija

The new proposal, filed by Innovative Design Architects, masks the development as a simple addition of floors and modifications to a maisonette, however plans easily available online on the Planning Authority’s website show that this shall continue the mass transformation of bungalows into apartment blocks, a stone’s throw away from Simar, which was essentially portrayed in the photomontage.

Noting ERA not having filed a position on the matter, BirdLife Malta wrote to ERA’s CEO Kevin Mercieca last month, specifically asking the environment authority to make its position known on the proposed development and to essentially safeguard the nature reserve which forms part of Malta’s Natura 2000 network. ERA’s response, which was filed yesterday, has simply insisted on light pollution concerns once the building is developed, failing to address other potential impacts including those during construction since the area is committed to development.

“Here again just weeks after we highlighted the issue publicly, we are seeing the realization of what we initially feared. It is discouraging to see a nature reserve being subjected to such an intensification of development next door, with not much hope elicited from the responsible authorities in making the situation right,” commented BirdLife Malta’s Head of Land Management Mark Gauci.

The representation period for the proposed development expires on 14th July and objectors are encouraged to file their concerns via the Planning Authority’s website via this link.

BirdLife Malta has in the meantime filed its objection to the development, raising concerns on the impacts the proposed development shall exert on the reserve during its construction and operational phases, threatening both the ecological and educational value of the protected wetland.

“We will object to this and other developments that threaten what is essentially our natural heritage being taken away at the expense of money-making initiatives. ERA is succumbing to seeing this area developed just because it is anyway in a development zone. Instead of acting on the issue, a planning application at a time, it is simply taking a back seat and letting this happen,” commented further Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Head of Conservation.

In the last approved application near Simar, the PA had noted ERA’s no objection to the development, which had only raised concerns on possible light pollution, as opposed to the impacts from construction and amassing of residents in an area next to the nature reserve. Architects favouring the developments had argued that since approval had been given to transform other maisonettes on the same street, other applications should not be treated in a different manner. However, in two recent decisions, concerning developments in ODZ (Outside Development Zone) and UCA (Urban Conservation Area), the PA’s Planning Commission has twice made it clear that one development approval does not mean the consent of similar approvals. The contentious issue with the Simar area is however a misapplication of planning polices which BirdLife Malta shall be contesting at a tribunal.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Photomontage of what Simar Nature Reserve is risking if planning policies allowing two-storey dwellings to become 7-8 storey apartments are given the go-ahead by the PA