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NEWS | Sunday, 16 March 2008

Ghar id-Dud excavation folly approved despite warning of imminent collapse

James Debono

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has approved a permit for excavations underneath a kiosk located on the Ghar id-Dud promenade, despite a report warning that the collapse of the underlying caves could cause a tragedy.
In November, MaltaToday revealed that a geological report commissioned by the Sliema local council warned that the Ghar id-Dud caves may partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade.
“If collapse is sudden and during daytime or early night time, injury and loss of lives may result,” the report warned.
But a MEPA spokesperson insisted that MEPA’s own studies show that excavations can still take place in the area between Qui-Si-Sana and the Chalet, where the kiosk is located and a car park was previously planned.
Plans for the car park, which would have resulted in the collapse of Ghar il-Lembi, were abandoned after protests by the Sliema local council in 2005. But MEPA is now presenting the same arguments to justify the new excavations.
The permit for excavations to make way for underground storage area beneath one of the Ghar id-Dud kiosks was approved on 22 January.
MaltaToday is informed that the Sliema local council submitted a copy of this report to MEPA before the DCC board’s decision to issue the permit for the excavations.
Green Party councillor Michael Briguglio is asking MEPA to give an explanation as to how excavation shall be permitted “in the delicate scenario” emerging from the Sliema council’s own report.
Briguglio also expressed amazement that MEPA claimed that it had not received any submissions on this application, when the Sliema local council had submitted its own geological report to MEPA.
Replying by email a MEPA spokesperson ignored MaltaToday’s questions on whether MEPA had given due to consideration to the Sliema Council’s report.
But the MEPA spokesperson insisted that MEPA had given full consideration to safety aspects and stability of the caves.
He referred to a study commissioned by MEPA in October 2004 entitled “Geological Evaluation of the Cave Systems at Ghar id-Dud and Ghar il-Lembi”.
“This study had concluded that excavation works can take place between the Northern Part of the Chalet and the corner of Qui-si-sana,” the MEPA spokesperson claimed.
According to MEPA the development planning application to replace the existing kiosk and provide underground storage space falls within the boundaries of the area that was declared safe for excavation works to be carried out.
In 2005 MEPA had recommended the elimination of Ghar il-Lembi to pave the way for the development of a car park in the area between the northern part of the Chalet and the corner to Qui-Si-Sana without harming the other cave, Ghar id-Dud.
MEPA justified its decision claiming that Ghar il-Lembi had a “very weak” internal stability and could collapse in the “short term” even if no development is allowed in the area.
On the other hand, back then MEPA claimed that the internal stability of Ghar id-Dud is “weak” but not as weak as that of Ghar il-Lembi, making its collapse less imminent.
Yet the same report cited by MEPA and conducted by Integrated Resource Management Ltd states that the site’s value as a site of special scientific interest has to be taken as “a whole coastal site rather than the individual caves of Ghar id-Dud and Ghar il-Lembi on their own.”
The report also states that the whole site, including both caves, can “definitely be considered fragile and in need of protection from man made interference.”
In 2007 MEPA had refused a permit for excavations under another kiosk sited on the same promenade but closer to Ghar id-Dud. On that occasion the case officer report refers directly to the danger posed to the underlying caves.

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