This week, development at an archeological site known as Giant’s Clearing (Wesgħa tal-Ġganti) in Mosta’s outskirts was started by AX Holdings.
The site featured some megaliths and possible cart ruts, but experts have warned that there’s a potential hypogeum under the rocks and have called on further studies to be done before the “vast underground excavations” planned for the site take place.
The land is slated to become a showroom and multiple apartments, and the main showroom has been described as “an interesting landmark building” by the Planning Directorate, but the Archaeological Society of Malta have pointed out that the sizeable ashlar boulders and the southern rubble wall on the site indicate more megalithic remains in the area.
While the large megaliths themselves will be preserved, they will be hidden from the public’s view, behind a building.
The Society have called for the “preservation of this feature and any archaeological feature present within the site and the surrounding area”.
With developments under way, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has recommended monitoring of the site to ensure the remains are not jeopardised.
Lovin Malta spoke to Michael Warrington, CEO of AX Holdings, about this controversial development.
He pointed out that “the land has belonged to AX Holdings for over 25 years, and in 2006 this land together with the neighbouring plots, some of which have already been developed, were brought into the rationalisation scheme for development.”
In response to the Archaeological Society of Malta’s calls for further studies, he said that “extensive studies have been done on all the sites even before the application was approved. The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage have given its clearance for development and is monitoring the works being undertaken in accordance with the development permission.”
“In fact, all the studies as suggested by the Archaeological Society, including documentation and laser monitoring, have been carried out under the supervision of the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage way back in 2012, with our full cooperation and at our cost.”
“We also went one step further than what is being suggested by the Archeology Society, in that archeologists were engaged on site at our cost to comb the site with brushes to have a proper objective assessment of its archeological value. The Superintendent was of the opinion, following such extensive studies, that there were no important remains, save one of the rubble walls.”
He pointed out how AX Holdings will be protected the sections deemed important on the site.
“One of the walls on the perimeter of the property is being retained and has been extensively documented. Measures are being taken to protect the wall both during excavation and during the construction phase.”
When asked to respond to the criticism being levelled against AX Holdings over the weekend, and even by Marlene Farrugia and the Partit Demokratiku, he said that “we have noted a clear misrepresentation of facts from some quarters, with some of the areas not forming part of the development and constituting an area that has been zoned by the Planning Authority and Superintendent of Cultural Heritage for open spaces, hence no development will be carried out in those areas.”
“Furthermore, safe distances are being kept from the walls in question and works are being undertaken strictly in accordance with permit conditions, which in turn are in compliance with accepted practices.”
“In the current climate,” he continued, “we understand that there is a heightened concern with heritage and environmental matters, as should be the case. We however also believe in dialogue on the basis of facts of the matter, and are always available to give the required information where requested. We are of the view that unresearched misrepresentations, even where well meant, are bound to weaken the cause of stakeholders where genuine cases exist.”
The “rationalisation scheme for development” that he refers to stems back to a 2006 extension of development zones in which the Giant’s Clearing site was included.
The site is listed as a Class B site – meaning an exhaustive list of permitted development would be considered – and as an Area of Archaeological Importance.
While there was a case officer’s report that proposed the area become a Class A site – meaning that no development could ever be made on it – this was never approved.
A major problem that many ODZ sites now face is that ironically enough, it is actually much cheaper to develop on ODZ land in Malta than in urban areas.
Since ODZ land often has no amenities or developments on it already, the price of the land is often very low – so if a developer can obtain the development permit, all following costs are likely to be very attractive.
In one development proposal, it was found that the same development on urban land compared to ODZ land would involve a fourfold rise in price for the developer.
And demand for ODZ land is growing at a tremendous rate – 154 ODZ permits were handed out in the first three months of 2016. 269 were given out in the first 3 months of 2017.
This trend will only increase as land becomes more and more scarce in Malta, and ODZ development can be successfully justified in many cases purely based on it being cheaper than in other development zones.