Developer Angelo Xuereb’s experience with his golf course application may be putting entrepreneurs off and it appears MEPA has not received any new applications to titillate golfers.
Xuereb’s proposal for a large golf course just outside Rabat was rejected resoundingly after a five-year wait and Xuereb had continually complained of delays.
Even before MEPA’s rejection Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi declared he wanted two more golf courses, one in Malta and one on Gozo, and after Xuereb’s disappointment ordered MEPA to prepare a report identifying sites suitable for golf courses within two months.
That report was prepared by end October 2004, but rather than signalling a frenzy with potential applicants fighting over the identified sites, the report has been met by silence from all quarters.
The Malta Financial and Business Times, asked Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi whether – given the seemingly lack of interest from the business community – he had changed his mind about wanting two golf courses. The curt reply from his communications coordinator was “The position of the Prime Minister has not changed.”
Asked what government was doing to promote golf course development on Malta, the PM’s man told this newspaper there would be a promotional call for potential developers, but gave no indication of when that might happen.
Five months after MEPA identified the possible sites for golf courses and seven after the Prime Minister made his call for two more, no proposals have been made known to the public.
When this newspaper asked the Prime Minister whether this meant the business community was uninterested, Gonzi’s spokesperson said: “Government has clear indications that the business community is interested in golf course developments. Indeed once a call is made it is anticipated that there will in fact be developers who will submit applications.”
MEPA was not able to reply to questions put to it April 12 followed up by several reminders as to whether new applications have been received, but only two applications appear on its website both dated 1999 one of which – Angelo Xuereb’s at Verdala - has been turned down and another is for a golf course on an adjacent and over-lapping site at Habel Bellu, which has never gone further than application stage.
The sites identified by MEPA as being suitable concur with MEPA’s Structure Plan policies in ways that other proposed sites at Verdala and Habel Bellu did not, and one is to presume that since the sites have been approved by the MEPA Board, planning policy will be in favour of approval, always subject to environment impact assessments.
The chosen sites are at Ta Zuta (in the Dingli, Siggiewi area), White Rocks including part of Pembroke, Maghtab, the Mqabba quarry area, the Marsa golf course site which can be extended, Tal-Gawhar (Safi), Ghajn Melel (Zebbug, Gozo) and Ta’ Cenc. Of those, in the report prepared for MEPA by tourism expert Anthony Ellul, the preferred three did not make the final list.
Ellul’s report had identified Maghtab, Mqabba and Ta Zuta as the best areas, but said none of these would be available in the short to medium term. Maghtab is indicated as not being suitable at the moment because it is a contaminated area, too close to the future landfill and even when levelled out not big enough for a large golf course, although the report states it may be suitable for a nine hole course. Ironically architect Edward Bencini told the winter (December 2004) edition of The Architect that he was working on a project that would involve the clearing of 18 million cubic metres from Maghtab in a project to create a 27 hole golf course, but subsequent statements made by environment minister George Pullicino to the effect that the material at Maghtab is not to be moved would seem to rule that proposal out.
The other selected areas are discounted because of the current quarrying operations within the sites.
According to the report the five ‘suitable’ sites - White Rocks including part of Pembroke; the Marsa golf course site which can be extended, Tal-Gawhar (Safi), Ghajn Melel (Zebbug, Gozo) and Ta’ Cenc – all enjoy some plus and minus points and it is stated that “each site poses different constraints both environmentally as well as from golf course design perspectives.”