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Butchering Baħrija’s bliss

I know my childhood to the lush green plains of Namura Valley in Baħrija and it pains me to see the way this village has developed for far too long. A rush of development has taken over Baħrija these last two decades as the prospect of the peace and quiet it offers becomes ever more appealing to first-time buyers.

I do not want to criticise every building I’ve seen going up as far as my memory stretches – there is nothing wrong in developing unspoilt land within development zones as long it is done sensibly.

But in a remote village like Baħrija, where the first thing that springs to mind is the natural beauty surrounding it, more attention must be paid to development policies to harmonise the natural and the built environment.

Certain policies have allowed for the construction of crammed residential units, modernist buildings and bright coloured facades overlooking garigue plains, thus ruining its skyline. Residential blocks loom over terraced houses at the peripheries of the village, throwing into the bin the textbook planning rule known as ‘terracing’.

More attention must be paid to development policies to harmonise the natural and the built environment

It is only a handful of houses that possess the charisma of wooden apertures, ornamental vines and globigerina limestone facades one expects to find in a rural village.

As a result, the odd tourist visiting Baħrija, and the increasingly popular Fomm ir-Riħ Bay, gets no impression of the quaint qualities they would have been looking at.

Residents in the vicinity of Baħrija’s main church are angered at the development taking place by the Tumas Group in what was once a green area.

Not only it has robbed local children of a precious playing spot but seems to completely disregard the need “to safeguard the setting and visual composition of the village from incongruous development”, as one of Baħrija’s planning issues, according to the 2006 Local Plans.

Taking a trip down memory lane, it is difficult to forget the farmhouse built by former Nationalist Party president Victor Scerri in 2009 on prime agricultural land, in an area known as Tas-Sirena, of high ecological and scientific importance.

Fast forward to 2017 and I am appalled to learn of the decision to grant permission, despite being recommended for refusal, for the construction of basement garages and overlying residential units in a field at the peripheries of Namura Valley.

The architect of such development (PA number 01701/16) is former Labour MP Charles Buhagiar.

A few metres away lies ODZ land belonging to the notorious Gaffarena family, which has reportedly been subject to repeated arson attacks.

Carob trees that once dotted Namura Valley have been engulfed in flames over the years. The mystery of who may lie behind such fires could be solved by the installation of CCTV cameras along Namura Road but this has not yet happened.

Another summer is here and the authorities are still in time to implement the necessary monitoring measures to avoid similar ‘incidents’.

For all of the above reasons, I truly hope that the authorities swap the chopping knife with some sharp minds to revamp planning policies and enhance the village’s charm for years to come.

Lee Bugeja Bartolo is an aerospace engineering graduate.

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