Right across the valley from a swimming pool granted permit last week in Xaghra, which has caused an outrage, another similar pool at the back of another block of flats was approved three years ago to the same developers (who are Joseph Portelli and his partners who own Excel Investments Limited).  

Permit for that pool was also granted in fragmentary planning process that, in that case, consisted of two applications. The initial permit was for a block of flats – called Hal Eghzien and consisting of 21 flats – and a “water feature” in the garden outback. This initial permit was granted despite recommendation for refusal by the case officer, mostly because it spilled over Outside Development Zone. This was then changed to a “communal pool” in a later permit. 

The pool grounds of Hal Eghzien jut into ODZ by around 45 metres

Although the pool at Hal Eghzien is less impactful than the pool granted permit last week – where the slope is steeper and the ridge well defined – it is symptomatic of a modus operandi that has become common in the past few years: a fragmented planning process that produces an end result that would have probably been refused if put in a single application in the beginning.

Red shading shows pool and landscaped section granted permit last week

There is also a third block of flats in the inner mouth of the valley with pool outback, this third one belonging to Ta Karkanja, another Gozitan developer. In that case, the initial permit – for seven houses with pools – was granted in 2004. It was then modified a few times, with the end result becoming 19 flats and a pool.

It’s a sign of where the real estate market in Gozo has gone: it’s flats, not houses, that are mostly sought-after by Malta-based residents who seek weekend pads in Gozo.

Such flats with communal swimming pools are being snapped up by Malta-based residents who buy flats to spend fair-weather weekends in Gozo, and in that sense they function like something akin to aparthotels.

At Wied L-Eghzien, as the lush valley in Xaghra is called, the impact of these blocks of flats with the pools outback is multi-pronged. There is the impact on the ridge vista – these blocks add dense urban forms or elements that impose themselves on the ridge – as well as the impact on the ecology of the valley.  

Large blocks of flats with pools destroy maquis habitat at foot of ridge

This website consulted with a naturalist on the maquis. 

The naturalist, who preferred to remain unnamed, analysed the flora behind the block of flats called The Valley, which is where the permit for swimming pool was granted last week. He made a list of the species of flora in the lush maquis habitat that are being destroyed by pools below the ridge.

Notable species of flora along the maquis at Wied L-Eghzien - click to enlarge

Species marked on picture above:

  • Ceratonia siliqua; carob tree (harruba). Protected in ODZ, need ERA permit to cut down.
  • Olea europaea; olive tree (zebbuga). Protected in ODZ, need ERA permit to cut down.
  • Prunus dulcis; almond tree (lewza). Protected in ODZ, need ERA permit to cut down.
  • Euphorbia melitensis; Maltese splurge (tenghud ta’ Malta); strictly protected
  • Ferula melitensis, giant fennel; endemic yet very common.
Light pollution, Hal Eghzien flats - residents have told this website that outdoor light has been dimmed or switched off in past 10 days

He also talked about the light and noise pollution. The light pollution for example is devastating to moths. And the blocks of flats with their terrace lights and pool lights create light pollution that would cumulatively, according to the naturalist, impact the already-diminished population of moths and other insects in Gozo. Farmers at Wied L-Eghzien have confirmed to this website that the population of moths in the valley has been diminishing. 

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  1. Charlie Vella Reply

    I have a question here. From your article it is being said that carobs and a number of trees are protected and needs ERA approval to be removed. Now if ERA disapproved the destruction of many carobs that were located at the same place were the huge block is today situated, howcome PA give green light to the application??? Hence the question comes automatically – why there ERA at the first place, if its recommendations are ignored by same governmental body ??? I think this happens only in Malta that the Environment agency is ignored whatsoever! Hence that why Joseph Muscat wanted to split MEPA to PA and ERA- very wise !

    • Very good questions. I believe the situation is, as usual, lack of enforcement. So, on paper, ERA has to approve cutting down trees in ODZ, but then there is no one to enforce the rules. I can also add something else here that shows same symptomatic issues: the Design Advisory Committee (a committee within the Planning Authority) in one of its recommendation wrote about the building: “The facade overlooking the valley seems too massive and needs to be ‘broken down’ to lessen its impact. Landscaping should be introduced to further mitigate it.”

      And then we get this: the trees behind the building as well as a large carob on the side of it were cut down. How’s that for landscaping?

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