A Joseph Portelli wannabe is out to ruin Għarb

Oh, to become the next Joseph Portelli seems to be any fledgling contractor cum developer cum speculator’s utopia. Employ the services of the same architect and adopt his same arrogant attitude towards development laws and regulations and, hey presto, you achieve god-like status in the corrupt fiefdom aka the Maltese islands.

Only recently in Qala, Portelli and his associates were inexplicably granted the green light sanctioning the illegal excavation of two swimming pools in an ODZ as part of a 164-apartment block. This despite vociferous objections by the Qala local council led by its no-nonsense mayor and by a number of NGOs. Other Gozitan NGOs were apparently happy to sit it out, possibly not to irk Portelli unduly.

The Qala project was spread out over several PA applications bypassing major planning requirements and making a mockery of the whole decision-making process. But this is something Portelli is an expert in. He even had the audacity to mock the political system by acknowledging donations to political parties in return for a favourable ear. And not one of the major parties denied it.

The latest Portelli wannabe is the same developer who rose to notoriety by attempting to build a block of flats near the Ġgantija Temples: a permit which was refused having incurred the wrath of the entire civilised segment of the population and anyone with a modicum of appreciation of history and culture.

Emanuel Joseph Farrugia has now enraged the entire community in the quaint Gozitan village of Għarb by conspiring to build an old people’s home on ODZ. This development would clearly have disastrous consequences on the traffic situation in this idyllic location characterised by extremely narrow streets, not to mention creating major sound and air pollution and exacerbating parking problems. Crucially, this project will also entail the destruction of pristine agricultural land.

At a time where food security is fast becoming a huge headache worldwide, forfeiting agricultural land would be plain folly on an island hampered by double insularity.

PA/001152/22 purports to house 94 rooms on eight floors starting with five floors below street level up to two floors above ground level. Massive excavation will therefore take place in a bid to somehow mitigate and conceal the eyesore resulting from this glaring monstrosity. The structure will also include a gym, day centre, clinics, indoor and outdoor pools, chapel and other amenities. The building will stand out like a sore thumb when compared to others surrounding it.

The sheer inconvenience and frustration it would create in the construction phase and thereafter will be detrimental to the well-being of this community and its visitors, from peace and quiet in this Gozitan gem to living with the maddening sound of excavators, jackhammers and what not, later to evolve to the drone of air conditioners, ambulance sirens and the coming and going of vehicles, including delivery vans.

Residents in the immediate vicinity currently enjoying lush country and sea views, which only this unique part of Gozo can provide, will find themselves staring at a tall grey wall. They will see the quality of their life deteriorate and the value of their property nosedive. Why? So that the usual handful of usurpers of the common good continue to line their pockets with the excuse of providing for poor old people.

But why an old people’s home? Why here? The one in Għajnsielem has been in the making for close to 10 years but hasn’t been finished yet, so why this urge to build another home? Is it just an excuse for a land grab on similar lines as that accorded to the American University of Malta?

Will this end up like another sinister shell-form building as happened in Xlendi along the coastline where it all looks like a ghost town with half-finished towers?

The anger of the people of Għarb is palpable and justified, especially following the experience of erstwhile gems like Marsalforn and Xlendi. Owing to the greed of the same handful of people, the former now looks like a huge open-air cluttered eatery, with the latter increasingly coming to resemble a poorly disguised favela. Both have lost their unique charm, all in the name of appeasing egoistic business interests.

The Environment and Resources Authority and the Agricultural Advisory Committee are also against the Għarb project. A mere glance at the village’s topography suggests that it is impossible for the infrastructure to cater for trucks with excavation debris careering through. Having had the privilege of visiting this village, I have personally witnessed the façades damaged by the occasional truck manoeuvring through the narrow streets. Imagine the mayhem and destruction if this were to become a multiple daily occurrence. Who will be responsible for the widespread damage incurred by the residents to their property?

This madness cannot be allowed to go any further. Let’s stop it before it leads to irreversible destruction. Għarb’s motto is after all In extremo vigilat (Sentinel at the Borderline). How appropriate that it should be this village with ancient roots to stand up to this outrageous project not only for its own sake but in the interests of preserving what’s left of Gozo’s natural beauty and serenity.

The proposed development must not only be nipped in the bud but serve as a watershed empowering ordinary citizens who have had enough of Gozo being systematically raped by unscrupulous developers in collusion with the powers that be.

Sandra Gauci
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Times of Malta – Monday 15 August 2022