Ministry matters

Gozo ministry set to lose EU funds after restarting illegal nature-damaging works in Ramla Valley

Extensive earthworks in the Ramla Valley under an EU-funded project which had been halted by the planning authority has resumed at full speed in recent weeks and only stopped once Lovin Malta sent questions to the planning authority and other government entities.

For a week now, rubble has been strewn on the side of the road, and the sides of the valley – which were previously covered in vegetation – which have been dug into the bedrock have been left exposed.

The work destroyed vegetation and some trees, including rare chasteberries, and turned the valley into something akin to a construction site strewn with rubble.

The Gozo Department has already been fined by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Managing Authority, which manages EU funds, is investigating work to remove EU funds in the amount of 2.2 million euros.

Yet the Planning Authority (PA) said no new work had been carried out since work stopped last October. In his responses, he said he was ‘informed’ that only ‘repair work’ was being done to ‘reinforce the collapsing walls and remove all debris from the valley system after this year’s storm These urgent works must be carried out to avoid any danger to the public and the free flow of rainwater.

Lovin Malta is posting photos to show that the recent work was in fact a wholesale re-build of the walls in breach of permit conditions agreed with the AP and ERA.

From restoration to thick new walls

The permit had originally been granted for the ‘restoration of the rubble stone walls’, and the work had to conform to a method statement drawn up by the Gozo Ministry.

The report details the nature of the restoration process using rough stones, light machinery and minimal valley disturbance. He specifically stated that “the project only seeks to work within the footprint of the existing walls maintaining the existing dimensions”. He also said there would be “no use of mortar” to build the rubble walls.

Instead, last summer the contractor hired by the Gozo Ministry moved in with heavy diggers and diggers, together with cranes and trucks, and built new, thicker walls – which tripled the footprint – with blocks of globigerina stones. These were then faced with rubble stone, and concrete was poured between the rubble stone and the globigerina slabs, to give them the appearance of rubble stone walls.

The vegetation and the few native chaste ones have been bulldozed.

After Lovin Malta reported on the works in September, the AP ordered a halt to the illegal works and the ERA fined the Gozo ministry for environmental damage to the valley.

Last October, the Palestinian Authority told Lovin Malta that work was “on hold until there is an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and ERA on how these deviations [from the permit granted] are rectified. »

However, work has resumed in recent weeks with the same heaviness of last summer: a strip of land cleared and bedrock dug from the sides of the valley to clear a path for the possible laying of a wall of limestone blocks globigerina nearly 2 meters thick in some sections. Rubble stone is then veneered over this wall with a concrete infill to give the walls a veneer – or appearance – of rubble walls.

The works are silent again and the soil and bedrock profile remained exposed, the day after Lovin Malta’s letter to the PA, ERA and the management authority, which is responsible for managing the EU rural funds.

Monitoring and loss of funds

ERA said it had already fined the Gozo Ministry for the earlier destructive work. He said he was monitoring the site.

The project is funded by €2.2 million from the EU’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and supplemented by an additional €700,000 from national (Maltese) funds. The EU funds were awarded on the basis that the project would fulfill priority area 4 of EU rural development funds: ‘Restoration, preservation and enhancement of ecosystems’. Its sub-objectives are to protect and enhance biodiversity, improve water management, and combat erosion and soil management.

The funds were allocated to the Eco-Gozo Directorate, which carried out the project. Eco-Gozo was started about 13 years ago under the Ministry of Gozo. Its objectives are to steer Gozo towards sustainable development and to protect nature in Gozo.

The works are supposed to be controlled by three entities: the PA, the ERA and the SCH (Superintendency of Cultural Heritage). Yet the illegal work has been so extensive that it is doubtful that these entities, or at least some of them, do much surveillance.

In fact, in its responses, the AP simply said that “the AP is advised” that the work in progress is only urgent work “to avoid danger to the public and the free flow of stormwater.” This suggests that AP officials did not visit the site.

Meanwhile, the Managing Authority, which administers EU funds, “has stressed that EU funding is only possible when supported projects comply with all relevant laws and regulations”.

He said he was currently looking into the matter and could still decide to withdraw the 2.2 million euros in European funds granted for the project.

Discover Lovin Malta’s planning website, the country’s first transparent and open platform for you to learn about the ins and outs of Malta’s urban planning sector.

Victor Paul Borg lived in different countries and worked as an author, journalist and photographer for about 25 years. His work has been widely published in many countries and is also featured on his website, victorborg.com.

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Julian is the editor of Lovin Malta with a particular interest in politics, environment, social issues and human interest stories.