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Xlendi. There is a strong feeling that Gozo is under threat of becoming a carbon copy of Malta in terms of the built environment. Photo: Daniel Cilia

Saving Gozo’s heritage – Godfrey Swain

The Għal Għawdex coalition is determined to save Gozo from overdevelopment and to protect its unique heritage and environment

In December 2022, representatives of seven of Gozo’s leading NGOs and constituted bodies met in Victoria for a meeting that set the stage to build the broadest coalition of Gozo stakeholders getting together with one common purpose.

The people joining that first meeting were the presidents of seven key stakeholders including the CEOs and some council members of each entity. The entities represented included the island’s three Gozo-based environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa Għawdex, Wirt Għawdex and Għawdix, representing the environmental and heritage heartbeat of Gozo; the two largest business bodies, the Gozo Business Chamber and the Gozo Tourism Association, representing the voices of industry and commerce and the tourism industry in Gozo respectively; Kunsill Reġjonali Għawdex, representing the 14 local councils in Gozo, and, in turn, all the communities of Gozo; and the Gozo University Group, representing Gozitan youth and our future generations.

The main, but not the only, cause of the threat was the construction industry and the decisions of the Planning Authority, which, in many cases, did not seem to make sense within the context of mega developments and other smaller pencil developments being approved in sensitive parts of Gozitan villages, Urban Conservation Areas (UCA), rural Outside Development Zone (ODZ) areas and the coast. Other issues were of equal interest to all parties, including the direction of Gozo’s traditional industries, commerce and the tourism sector.

Coming from such diverse sectors, reaching an agreement was not without its challenges. However, there was a ‘coming together of minds’ on many key issues, with the seven entities choosing to focus on the areas where there was clear convergence of views.

As a result, an eight-point plan was finalised and agreed to by all parties. The plan is designed to present a clear way forward to the authorities, backed by stakeholders representing practically every facet of Gozitan society.

The eight-point plan is designed to present a clear way forward to the authorities, backed by practically every facet of Gozitan society– Godfrey Swain

It was made clear from the outset that the stakeholders behind ‘Għal Għawdex’ are very supportive of the continuing development of Gozo and will encourage all sustainable initiatives to continue supporting the construction industry once the industry recognises the special quali­ties of Gozo and pursues a construction policy where the built and natural environment are respected, while promoting the long-term sustainable development and prosperity of the island.

The eight-point plan being proposed by the key stakeholders revolves around important aspects that affect Gozo’s development.  The key strategic point of our proposals revolves around a new regional plan for Gozo. 

The current situation shows that the same planning policies that applied to both Malta and Gozo have not resulted in a beneficial situation for Gozo and have impacted it negatively.  This new planning approach should include, for example, classifying Gozo as a Design Priority Area and having mandatory parking facilities for new apartment blocks. 

Regulations such as the DC2015 Annex 2 Regulations, which have impacted negatively the Gozitan landscape and which have incentivised the wrong type of deve­lopment, should also be suspended, recognising that this should not apply in full for already severely compromised areas like Marsalforn and Xlendi. Other important interim measures should include the extension of Urban Conservation Area boundaries, depending on the characteristics of each locality, and a moratorium on new ODZ applications.

Another key aspect of our proposals revolves around new and amended fiscal proposals that should incentivise the right type of development and purchase of property.  This includes the removal of fiscal incentives that incentivise the demolition of traditional vernacular pro­perties to make way for new blocks of apartments in Gozo, while retaining the existing incentives on the sale and purchase of properties in Urban Conservation Areas subject to long-term protection of the integrity of such properties.

The Għal Għawdex stakeholders intend to engage in constructive discussions with the key decision makers on the eight-point plan to discuss policy and implementation aspects. The seven key stakeholders believe the right changes can be made to achieve a truly sustainable balance between the need to drive economic prosperity and the modernisation of Gozo’s economy while protecting and preserving the island’s heritage and long-term attractiveness.

Godfrey Swain is a member of the Għal Għawdex group representing Din L-Art Ħelwa Għawdex and is writing on behalf of all seven Għal Għawdex stakeholders.

Source: Times of Malta