Sheep in wolves’ skins… – Alan Deidun

Ever since the infamous sanctioning of the revised ODZ policies (the so-called Rural Policy and Design Guidelines) in 2014, the islands have witnessed a veritable resurgence in the number of registered farmers.

The emphasis on the term ‘registered’ is deliberate given that the ushering in of such permissive legislation did not translate into an increase in the number of genuine farmers, for which the islands has a dire need due to the unremitting loss of human resources from the agricultural sector, but rather an increase in overnight converts to farming.

The much-maligned ODZ policies, in fact, pay lip service to an applicant’s status, by placing the onus on how much land the same applicant has registered under his name, rather than on the number of years the same applicant has been registered as an active farmer or on his full-time/part-time status.

 The outcome of such a flawed philosophy, which was anticipated by many way back in 2013/2014, is a deluge of entrepreneurs turned farmers, with their status being legitimised in the eyes of the ODZ policies through the purchase of massive swathes of land, rather than through a genuine love and attachment to farming practices.

This all leaves the ERA and environmental NGOs heaving under a burden of preposterous applications for animal husbandry farms, stores and agritourism projects. One such application (PA 3284/20) is for a gargantuan goat farm in an ODZ area in Mġarr, a stone’s throw away from the Victorian edifice known as ‘Strickland Palace’, submitted by a notorious entrepreneur.    

The same planning application breathes largesse through every pore, envisaging the construction of a goat farm with isolation pen, sheep’s pen, stores, lambing room, milking parlour, changing rooms, production area, hay store underground reservoir, underground cesspit, and other ancillary facilities. All fine and dandy, except that the countryside is peppered with abandoned farm buildings and that the ODZ policies in question even foresee the inclusion of residential quarters within new farm buildings.

After biting the fuel stations bullet so ably, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia should set the revision of the ODZ policies (the RPDG) in his sights so as to plug the many loopholes riddling the same policies, as has been advocated many a time by those witnessing the brazen abuse the policies are leading to.

The outcome of such a flawed philosophy is a deluge of entrepreneurs turned farmers– Alan Deidun

Farrugia might face some staunch resistance from some quarters to implement such revisions, especially since his portfolio also incorporates the planning and development realm, but his success or otherwise to take the RPDG bull by its horns will be one of the main yardsticks by which his tenure in office is assessed for posterity.

With Filfla in your sights…

Despite the fact that the number of planning applications has dampened in recent months as a result of the COVID-19 wet blanket, a number of outrageous applications are still submitted from time to time. The biscuit must definitely go, in this case, to PA 3458/20, which is proposing the construction of a bungalow and garage in a largely unspoilt ODZ swathe leading down to Għar Lapsi and enjoying evocative views of Filfla.

No wonder the same application has elicited such a backlash from the public, with Graffitti spearheading the drive to object to such an application (possible until June 26 through the following link:

 Legitimate reasons for objecting include the following: 1. The proposed bungalow and garage are in a field on an ODZ site. No built-up structures exist in the plot where the development is planned. The documentation presented does not provide proof of legitimate use as a residence in 1978 and therefore the proposed development is not justified.

2. New residences on unbuilt ODZ plots should not be approved as this is virgin land, located close to a natural site, on the road leading to Għar Lapsi and Wied iż-Żurrieq. If this development were to be approved, this would create a dangerous precedent for the area, leading to more buildings and developments which would mar the natural beauty of the area, as well as its agricultural potential.

3. The proposed development will have a significant impact on the landscape and the view of the area, particularly the sea view as you are coming down the road to Għar Lapsi and Wied iż-Żurrieq.

Injecting the love for the sea in the young

World Ocean Day has been commemorated since 1992 in order to draw attention to the seminal role played by the sea in regulating global climate and in our everyday lives (e.g. through provision of oxygen, food and drinking water as well as an increasing array of novel biomolecules with potential in the medical and pharmaceutical fields).

The mission to promulgate ocean literacy even further on our shores has been the driving force in recent years behind the World Ocean Day event organised at the Malta National Aquarium. Given the current social distancing predicament dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to be overhauled by an online activity, in the form of two quizzes targeting primary and secondary school students formulated by the University of Malta and the Malta National Aquarium.

The quizzes drew an unexpected torrent of participation, with a combined total of approximately 500 submissions. The secondary school quiz even featured a question on the European Commissions’ Ocean Mission Board, specifically nudging students into prioritising their main fields of funding if they had €1 billion at their disposal for the next seven years.

 Intriguingly, the top five priorities as ranked by the same students were habitat and site conservation (coupled with the need for more effective MPA management), the conservation of individual species (rare and charismatic ones, mainly), the tackling of non-plastic pollution (e.g. oil, sewage), a greater momentum in favour of marine research and exploration and the need to address plastic pollution.

The winning student and school submissions will be formally acknowledged through the bestowment of book prizes donated by the International Ocean Institute (IOI) and the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA).

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