The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) issued a Conservation Order and Protection Notice in Mensija, San Gwann that includes the site of the proposed development application numbered PA/04214/19. This application already drew over 260 objections from the public, residents and NGOs. The details of this Conservation Order were published in the Government Gazette No 20,297 dated 19th November under government notice no. 1476 of 2019.
The protected area, referred to as the Solution Subsidence Structure in Tal-Mensija, has been designated as a Special Area of Geological Importance with the aim to conserve and protect the geology and geomorphology of the site due to the natural features that encompass flora, fauna, natural habitats and the unique cave structures that form part of the historic Mensija Chapel and underlie neighbouring dwellings.
The Conservation Order was issued more or less at the same time that the Planning Authority published a Development Permit Application Report (DPA) report on the proposed development application PA/04214/19 in the hamlet of Mensija,. The application had raised serious concerns by the Environment and Resources Authority (“ERA”), the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (“SCH”), the Archdiocese of Malta, by residents in the locality and drew harsh criticism from the public and NGOs across the social media.
The proposed massive development also raised serious concerns from the custodians of historical properties in this historic hamlet. These properties include the unique Mensija Chapel, built in a cave dating back to the 16th century, and Torri ta’ Lanzun, one of the last examples of a fortified farmhouse in Malta. Both are Grade 1 cultural heritage sites located barely 50 metres away from the proposed development
The main areas of concern raised via the objections included:
- The stability of a series of caves that lie just beneath the ridge over which the site of the proposed development extends. Planned excavation close to these caves could lead to structural damage and the collapse of: the historic Mensija Chapel, that continues to host people from the community for daily mass and; overlying private dwellings, putting people’s life at risk. Due to the extent of the caves, concerns have also been raised regarding potential structural damage to Torri Ta’ Lanzun.
- Damage to the steep slope of the natural sinkhole, one of the few in Malta, also referred to as a Maqluba that lies just below the ridge and which contains a natural habitat for flora and fauna. Objectors to the project indicated that it is evident that this natural topography needs to be retained.
- Furthermore, they emphasised that the height of the proposed development will amongst other factors have a negative impact through shading on the about 30 protected carob trees which are more than 100 years old. Their survival depends on direct sunlight which will be drastically reduced if this project materialises. Together with other natural vegetation, these mature trees serve as a vital lung for people in the Mensija hamlet.
- The visual impact of this proposed development, which can be compared to building a large hotel in a small community – apart from towering over all the other neighbouring buildings will be a massive eyesore from afar. Furthermore, it will create a negative impact on the streetscape, especially through an oppressive side wall towering over this historical hamlet and engulf the Grade 1 scheduled and protected sites of the Mensija Chapel and Torri Ta’ Lanzun that have been around for well over 300 years, hence ruining one of the last surviving historic hamlets in Malta.
- Finally the residents, owners and custodians of properties in the area reiterated that they are not against the site being developed, however it is both essential and indispensable that any development takes cognizance of and addresses these serious concerns to avoid any risk of damage to nearby properties – whether historical and/or private – and without ignoring the more serious potential risk to human lives should the rock foundations become unstable.
As a result, some residents have also filed Judicial Protests with the Courts of Malta after seeking technical advice to safeguard their properties and the risks associated with this proposed development.
The hearing / decision of this damaging and ‘monstrous’ development application in Mensija, San Gwann will he held at the Planning Authority in Floriana on Monday 16th December 2019 at 12.30pm. Residents of Mensija, the public, NGOs and all those concerned by the proposed development that will ruin and damage the hamlet of Mensija are encouraged to attend the hearing and support the cause to ensure that Mensija is protected from the rampant and irresponsible construction that has taken over both Malta and Gozo.