Sunday, 18 August 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 7 hours ago
The Ministry for Tourism has confirmed that sand replenishment at Għar l-Aħmar in Marsaxlokk was carried out before a planning permit for the entire project had been issued, but insists that the works could go ahead because they were deemed to be ‘a minor element of the project.
The project consists of sand re-nourishment as well as the construction of a berm, making the beach a permanent one.
Last week, The Malta Independent on Sunday reported that the sand replenishment exercise had been carried out before the application covering the entire project had been approved.
The newly replenished beach was inaugurated by Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi on 2 July but the application covering the entire project is still pending. In fact, the representation period is open until 16 September.
The project description statement, uploaded with the rest of the project-related files on the Planning Authority website, clearly states that the project encompasses both the sand replenishment exercise and construction of a berm. The beach has been extended by 15 metres, while the tender for the construction of the berm was issued a few days ago.
Reacting to the report, the tourism ministry said that the necessary studies had been carried out and that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) had issued a ‘positive recommendation’ for dredging works to begin.
It said that consultations with the ERA to determine what studies were needed began in 2018. Consequently, a number of studies were carried out. These included wave motion studies and surveys of the seabed.
The ministry said these studies were submitted to the ERA together with the planning application on 22 January 2019.
In May, the ERA said it had no objection but issued a number of conditions. Works on the beach replenishment started shortly afterwards.
The ministry said these works could be carried out before the approval of the planning application, since project architects had advised that the shifting of the sand was ‘a minor element of the work and this could be considered as ‘preliminary enabling works’.
These minor works were carried out in accordance with the stipulated conditions and were monitored, the ministry has said.
It also stated that works on permanent structures, such as the proposed berm and its foundations, had not yet started. These works would only be carried out once the PA permit had been approved, it said.
“Being the major component of the application, none of these major works will start unless all documentation is in place and necessary permits have been issued.”
It seems, however, that not all interested parties were informed of the decision to start the sand replenishment exercise.
On 11 July, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) said that the works – which it noted had already been completed – could disturb deposits or features of cultural value and would, therefore, require archaeological monitoring.
It noted that it was “now informed that the project has been completed, despite a permit not having been issued, and in the absence of monitoring that would have been necessary in the light of new information submitted in the screening application.”
The heritage watchdog had originally signalled its approval of the project base on information it had available at the time. The ERA subsequently requested additional documentation, which the SCH says it was not made aware of, let alone consulted on.
A number of representations have expressed concern that the beach reclamation project was carried out without a permit, with some calling for the planning application to be rejected and for fines to be considered.
Making its representation, Friends of the Earth Malta said: “Work had already started way back in May. This is blatant violation of planning regulations and the Aarhus Convention. It is even more shocking that the applicant is Projects Malta, which is fully owned by the Government of Malta.”
A tender for the construction of a berm at Għar l-Aħmar was issued on 2 August, although a clause in the tender document states that “the award for this tender is subject to the granting of the pending PA permit Ref: PA/01921/19, for which an application has already been submitted by the Foundation for Tourism Zone Development.”
Similar beach re-nourishment projects carried out in St Julian’s, Birżebbuġa and Marsascala were covered by the necessary permits, even if, unlike the beach at Għar l-Aħmar, they are not meant to be permanent.
Questions sent to the Planning Authority on Tuesday, asking whether these ‘minor’ and ‘preliminary’ works could be carried out before the approval of the planning permit for the entire project had not been answered by the time of going to print yesterday.
The tourism ministry’s Right of Reply in full
Referring to the article published in The Malta Independent on Sunday today, 11 August 2019, with the title ‘Marsaxlokk beach reclamation carried out without PA permit’, the Ministry of Tourism states as follows.
Consultations with the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) started in 2018 to determine what studies were needed for l- Għar l-Aħmar to extend its beach in a stable way. The following studies were undertaken in readiness for the planning application process:
1. Wave motion studies by the Dutch specialist Svasek Hydraulics in order to design for the maximum wave heights;
2. Benthic studies of the seabed at l-Għar l-Aħmar to determine those footprints that would be environmentally acceptable;
3. Mathematical modelling by Svasek Hydraulics of the various options to nourish the beach within long term sediment transport safeguards;
4. Reference to studies in the area of other ongoing projects and permits such as the Qrejten breakwater, and the dredging at il-Magħluq;
5. Granulometric analysis of borrow pit sand at il-Magħluq.
The studies were all submitted to the ERA simultaneous with Planning Authority (PA) application number PA/01921/19 submitted on 22 January 2019.
The ERA issued their positive recommendation on 30 May 2019, subject to a number of conditions. The works consisted in dredging from an already approved borrow pit and deposit sand as beach nourishment at l-Għar l-Aħmar. The ERA recommendations also included the proposed berm which is yet to be determined by the PA.
The ministry is advised by project architects that since the shifting of the sand was a minor element of the work, it could be considered as preliminary enabling works. All these minor works have been done in accordance with the conditions that the ERA had recommended, including the presence of an environmental monitor.
However, no permanent structures such as the proposed berm, its foundation preparation, the placing of boulders or anything related to it, has started. Being the major component of the application, none of these major works will start unless all documentation is in place and necessary permits have been issued.