Kontra l-Korsa tal-Golf

Taħt tal-Virtù


Against the Tal-Virtù Golf Course


"Il-Golf Kellu Jkun" (poeżija)

Bulleting the Reasons
Why the Tal-Virtù Golf Course Proposal should be rejected

Ritratti tal-Bdiewa u l-prodott - Tal-Virtù Farmers and their Crops

The Proposed Rabat Golf Course and Cultural Heritage

   Why golf course application should be rejected 
Dr David E. Zammit

A golf course is in the country's interest

Angelo Xuereb

L-Orizzont dwar il-Korsa tal-Golf (Lulju 2004)

Tal-Virtù farmers present anti-golf course petition (30.9.01)

Favur il-Biedja f’Tal-Virtù - Ittra lill-MEPA

Unsustainable Malta

Watch Anġlu Xuereb Golf


Golf f'Tal-Virtù - Le Grazzi

Website of the Front Against the Tal-Virtù Golf Course Proposal



Il-Bidwi Mario Galea

Farmer Mario Galea


Kola Cassar u binti qalb id-dwieli li kabbar taħt Tal-Vir

Kola Cassar and his daughter among their vines in the fields below Tal-Vir



George Cortis u l-għeneb li jkabbar

George Cortis and his grapes


Bulleting the Reasons

18 Reasons why the Tal-Virtù Golf Course Proposal

should be rejected


The proposal to build a golf course at Tal-Virtù doesn’t make economic, cultural, social, or legal sense because it:


§         is in clear breach of the 1991 international agreement between Malta and the Holy See (Vatican)

§         proposes the kind of “development” that has destroyed large stretches of the Maltese landscape and robbed it of its character

§         violates the Structure Plan of the Maltese Islands. The policy relevant to golf courses specifically excludes the siting of golf courses on the kind of good quality agricultural land (POLICY TOU 12) one finds at Tal-Virtù

§         proposes to uproot almost a hundred farmers and to destroy their knowledge of a large stretch of rich agricultural land that goes back hundreds of years

§         does not respect the rights of 92 farmers working the agricultural land in the area who have signed a declaration against the proposed golf course on the land and presented it to the Vatican, the President of Malta, the Archbishop of Malta, the Apostolic Nuncio in Malta, and the Prime Minister

§        was turned down by the Planning Directorate (the planning experts) of the Planning Authority for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is a Rural Conservation Area; that the potential threat on the water resources (upper perched aquifer of central Malta) is unacceptable; and that it will increase soil erosion

§         would consume an unsustainable amount of precious water in a thirsty country where farmers are sometimes told there is not enough water to go round. An expected impact of climate change in the Mediterranean would be to intensify water scarcity in the region. According to indications given by the developers’ consultant to the Water Services Corporation and reported by Il-Ġensillum,  the proposed golf course would consume a quantity of water equivalent to the consumption of 19,000 people

§         in a future increasingly threatened by global warming, Malta shall have less (or rather no) water to spare on mega-projects that are water-intensive and provide meagre returns

§         would threaten to contaminate Malta's main drinking water supply - the Mean Sea Level Aquifer – because of the risk of seepage into this aquifer of  the agro-chemicals applied to the fairways. The seepage could occur due to the nature of the underlying geological formation, as warned by the Malta Resources Authority in its submission to MEPA of 12/06/2002

§         would pose an unacceptable threat to our biodiversity by the use of the paspalum vaginatum turf proposed by the developer, a highly invasive grass which the EIA admits could cause 'irreversible' problems if it were to 'escape' from the perimeter of the golf course

§         is an irreversible project that would therefore destroy the landscape and the underground waterways for ever

§         would destroy more of the rich agricultural land that Malta needs so much. Malta is already losing an average of two square kilometres per year. We should be working on recovering farmland, not accelerating the rate of loss.

§         runs counter to other sustainable kinds of development, like organic farming, agritourism, health tourism and ecotourism, that empower the local farming community and could serve as an ideal location for thousands of Maltese students who want to experience a rich rural environment and see the promotion of positive farming practices. MEPA has already approved a project for the creation of a centre for organic farming in the area run by one of the farmers

§         it would demolish the existing rubble walls and rebuild them elsewhere. The heritage lies in where they are today undisturbed since the hands that built them

§         would only exacerbate the loss of character, in terms of landscape and culture, that has had such a negative impact on the quality of life in Malta and our potential to attract tourists. An indepth analysis that has been presented to MEPA has shown that the economic benefits claimed by the developer in terms of job creation, tourist arrivals and other areas are largely based on assumptions and mere speculation. Official Government research has shown that tourists identify environmental degradation, and not the lack of an 18-hole golf course, as a major liability of the Maltese tourist industry

§         can never make of Malta a “a premium golfing destination” when golfers are spoiled for choice in larger countries

§         would spoil the landscape around the historical city of Mdina

§         could endanger the city of Mdina itself by destabilising its foundations through excessive drawndowns of water from the underlying aquifer. Italian consultants have reported to the Maltese government that Natural changes, such as drought shrinking the blue clay, are threatening Mdina. Given such a precarious state no extraction from the aquifer on a scale necessary for a golf course (as proposed) should be allowed.


Apart from the Archbishop and the Church weekly Il-Ġensillum, a large number of local organizations have declared publicly that they are against the project. These include the Progressive Farmers Union, Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Jesuit Province in Malta, Friends of the Earth (Malta), Nature Trust, Moviment Graffitti, Alternattiva Demokratika, Inizjamed, Move! Organisation, Żminijietna, Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ, International Animal Rescue, Azzjoni Pożittiva, Vegetarian Society, Pembroke Residents Association, University Chaplaincy, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, Kopin, Farmers' Central Co-Operative Society, Front Insalvaw Wied il-Garnaw and the Third World Group.


A number of leading foreign institutions and organizations that have spoken out against the proposed golf course at Tal-Virtù, including the Parco Nazionale dell'Aspromonte, Altreconomia, CRIC, CTM-Altromercato, International House and Etimos in Italy; Friends of the Earth (Middle East); the Eco Village Network in Turkey; CRIDA and Allee in France; and European Perspective in Greece. These organizations recalled that “Malta has ratified the Barcelona Convention and is a signatory of the UN Convention to combat Desertification,” and they called on the relevant Maltese authorities to “desist from proposing and supporting projects that are unsustainable.” They said that the golf course proposed for the Tal-Virtu area “should be rejected” because “agricultural land should be protected and improved because it has a value that far exceeds the price that a developer may be willing to pay for it.”


The European Union is giving direct subsidies to Malta to increase its cultivation of vines from 400 hectares to 1000 hectares and to produce up to 150 tonnes of olive oil. At present we are nowhere near reaching these handsome economic targets. In order to do so, Malta must recover more agricultural land and not destroy the precious land and human resources that are left.


Malta needs truly wise, innovative and forward-looking projects that meet the needs of the present and respect the rights of future generations; it needs to invest in organic farming, agritourism and ecotourism that have a positive longterm effect on a country that is fast losing its character and quality of life, and its appeal to tourists.


By rejecting the proposal for this golf course that would destroy one of the most beautiful areas on the island forever and uproot a hundred farmers and their families, MEPA, as it is duty bound to do, will send a clear message to everyone that Malta needs to stand by its precious natural and human resources and allow them to flourish.



Adrian Grima B.A. (Gen.), B.A. (Hons.), M.A., Ph.D.

Coordinator, Inizjamed

14 March, 2004


This article is largely based on research carried out by the Front Against the Tal-Virtù Golf Course. Inizjamed is a member of the Front.


See also:

Maltamedia (16 March, 2004) - di-ve.com (16 March, 2004)

The Times (5 May, 2004) - The Malta Independent (19 March, 2004)


Il-korsa tal-golf

Il-korsa tal-golf proposta biex tinbena fuq l-art agrikola taht il-lukanda Verdala fir-Rabat sabet intopp iehor. Rapport imhejji mill-Kummissjoni Ambjent fi hdan is-Segretarjat Pastorali Djocesan ta’ l-Arcidjocesi ta’Malta jitlob li dan l-izvilupp m’ghandux isirx. Il-korsa tal-golf, ippjanata fuq qisien internazzjonali, kellha l-ghan, skond l-izviluppaturi, li tghin issolvi l-problema tat-turizmu fix-xitwa filwaqt li fl-istess hin tigbed turizmu ta’ kwalità.

L-istudju tal-Kummissjoni Ambjent jigbed diversi konkluzjonijiet dwar il-progett fejn juri l-aspetti negattivi kieku kellu jsir, fosthom it-telf ta’ madwar 50 tomna raba’ u l-isparpaljar ta’ familji shah li jahdmu dan ir-raba’ u li mhux facli li terga’ ggibhom lura jekk xi darba l-golf course terga’ ssir raba’ kif kienet. Id-decizjoni ahharija dwar il-golf course issa tidher li hi f’idejn il-MEPA, l-Awtorità ta’ l-Ambjent u Ippjanar wara li giet ipprezentata b’kopja tar-rapport hija wkoll.

L-istorja ta’ din il-golf course ilha ghaddejja ghal hafna zmien issa. L-oppozizzjoni ghaliha dehret sa mill-ewwel jiem li sar maghruf li kien hemm il-hsieb ghaliha. Ipprotestaw il-bdiewa li jahdmu r-raba’ ta’ hemm taht u resqu r-ragunijiet taghhomg ipprotestaw ghaqdiet ambjentali li wkoll ressqu r-ragunijiet ghala m’ghandhiex issir u pprotesta kontriha parti mill-poplu Malti bil-kitbiet tieghu fil-media. Daqstant iehor izda jidhru li huma determinati l-izviluppaturi li qeghdin jissuggerixxu din l-golf course tant li regghu ghamlu t-tieni applikazzjoni ghaliha. Jinhtieg ghalhekk Ii tittiehed decizjoni naha jew ohra u bla dewmien.

L-ewwelnett il-bdiewa jinhtieg jkunu jafu jekk ghandhomx iserrhu rashom li se jkomplu jahdmu r-raba’ taghhom. It-tieni, l-izviluppatur ukoll irid jkun jaf ghandux iwarrab dan il-progett u jinvesti f’xi haga ohra, forsi anke f’golf course ohra, imma f’xi parti ohra tal-gzira li ma taqlaghlux l-inkwiet li qalaghlu r-raba’ ta’ taht il-lukanda Verdala.

Huwa importanti li progetti li jkunu se jmissu jew jibdlu l-mod tal-hajja ta’ familji shah, jittiehed zmien bizzejjed biex jigi studjat l-impatt taghhom ekonomiku u socjali. B’hekk wiehed ikun jista’ jiggudika kemm tali progett jista’ jkun vijabbli. Imma qatt m’ghandux jithalla jghaddi zmien esagerat, minhabba burokrazija jew intoppi ohra.

Editorjal ta' L-Orizzont


The Proposed Rabat Golf Course

and Cultural Heritage


The Galician poet Miro Villar who recently visited Malta to give workshops and to read his poetry in public has called it an “absurd proposal”;it makes “absolutely no sense”. It is the result of the current wave of “savage capitalism that doesn’t bother much about the inhabitants and their means of production, the quality of life and the environment.”


The proposal actually breaks an international agreement between the Vatican and Malta. It goes against the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands that regulates where and how development should take place and a number of the goverment’s own policies. And yet, despite the vociferous opposition of Maltese civil society, the Prime Minister seems to be in favour of this proposal. Perhaps it is a question of “monocultures of the mind” taking over, to borrow a phrase from Vandana Shiva.


The Maltese company AX Holdings wants to build an 18-hole golf course on prime agricultural land on a semi-arid island mediterranean island that is losing its precious farm land at the rate of 2 km2 a year. Much has been written in Malta about this incredible proposal and the negative impact it would have on the environment and on the lives of the large farming community in the area. This article focuses on the repercussions it would have on the cultural heritage of the area and of Malta in general.


In April 2000, participants at the international workshop held in Malta on Building Partnerships for a Sustainable Future in the Mediterranean, representing development experts and activists from several countries throughout the Mediterranean, issued a statement saying that they “were deeply shocked by the apparently unsustainable over-development of the island and lack of open natural spaces.” They said that “the golf course proposed for the Tal-Virtu area should be rejected. Agricultural land should be protected and improved because it has a value that far exceeds the price that a developer may be willing to pay for it. (http://www.geocities.com/inizjamed/unsustainable_malta.htm)

The Myth of Reversibility


One of the most extraordinary claims in the Environment Impact Assessment carried out by local and foreign consultants commissioned by AX Holdings is that the proposed golf course beneath Tal-Virtù in Rabat is “reversible”.


On the cultural level, the inevitable consequences of this kind of development could never be reversible. When you uproot whole families from the land that they have worked for generations and you transform a large area of precious prime agricultural land into an alien golf course you are destroying forever a relationship built on acquired knowledge and experience.


The supposed “reversibility” of the project and the possible return of the farmers to their land ignores that if the land the whole atmosphere have changed in their absence, the farming community’s relation with that land and the cultural heritage that developed from that centuries-old relationship will be lost forever, both for the community itself and for the nation as a whole.


The EIA acknowledges that a “Potential Impact” on the farmers would be that “Heritage and family ties to the land would be severed and the income derived from the fields lost.” The adjective “potential” is, at best, a euphemism: the uprooting of a whole community from its land and the transformation of that land by others into something culturally and environmentally alien will definitely and irreversibly sever the heritage and family ties with the land.


Moreover, the mixing of these cultural and emotional ties with the question of income is symptomatic of the EIA’s lack of sensitivity towards the farming community and its culture/s.


If MEPA were to approve this “absurd proposal” they would also be responsible for the destruction of a wealth of knowledge about the land acquired by generations of farming families. There is no way anyone can retrieve that wealth of knowledge about farming traditions, about the landscape, the underground water passages, the “behaviour” of the soils, and so forth after having forced the farmers off their land.


Fundamentally Flawed


The consultants’ assessment of the impact of the proposed golf course on cultural heritage is fundamentally flawed because the EIA fails to acknowledge the most basic definition of this heritage. The implication and/or impression in the EIA is that it is solely a matter of rubble walls and archaeological remains.


In Chapter 445 of the Laws of Malta, ''cultural heritage'' is defined as movable or immovable objects of artistic, architectural, historical, archaeological, ethnographic, palaeontological and geological importance and includes information or data relative to cultural heritage pertaining to Malta or to any other country. This includes archaeological, palaeontological or geological sites and deposits, landscapes, groups of buildings, as well as scientific collections, collections of art objects, manuscripts, books, published material, archives, audio-visual material and reproductions of any of the preceding, or collections of historical value, as well as intangible cultural assets comprising arts, traditions, customs and skills employed in the performing arts, in applied arts and in crafts and other intangible assets which have a historical, artistic or ethnographic value”.


The EIA twice acknowledges (11.3 and 15.5) the fact that the Terms of Reference issued by the then Planning Authority asked for an assessment of the “effects on Culture (e.g. on the local identity through impacts on lifestyle, community values, and through impacts on historical and archaeological resources).” But the EIA does not deal with this heritage in any adequate way. At a time when the world has become particularly aware of the interconnectedness between biodiversity and cultural diversity, between environmental and cultural sustainability, the EIA’s scanty remarks appear pathetically inadequate.


This issue is, perhaps conveniently, caught between two chapters: “Archaeology and Cultural Heritage” (Chapter 11) and “Socio-Economic Impact” (Chapter 15). Neither one of these chapters deals with the issue adequately. The loss of “Cultural Heritage”, in the sense of “local identity”, “historical resources”, oral culture, and a profound, centuries-old understanding of the land and the culture that has been associated with it, is omitted altogether in the Key Issues of both Chapter 11 and Chapter 15.


Biodiversity and Cultural Diversity


“Many countries,” writes Maude Barlow, “view culture as their richest heritage, without which they have no roots, history or soul.” The word “culture” refers both to “cultivating soil” and to “cultivating the mind and civilization”. Culture and nature are intrinsically linked. The elements of Culture and “Cultural Heritage” that are lacking in the EIA refer, amongst other things, to a particular form, stage, or type of intellectual development or civilization in a society; it also refers to the distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, etc., of a society or group, and to the way of life of a society or group.


On a small island with a semi-arid climate like Malta, the words of Vandana Shiva, the renowned physicist and expert on sustainability, are particularly relevant: “diversity”, she writes, “is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification.” These are two very real threats to people and the environment throughout the Mediterranean, in particular in view of the expected impacts on climate change. The proposed development assessed by the EIA advocates monocultures, not diversity, and makes no mention at all of climate change.


Vandana Shiva argues that “Diversity is the characteristic of nature and the basis of ecological stability. Diverse ecosystems give rise to diverse life forms and diverse cultures. The co-evolution of culture, life forms and habitats have conserved the biological diversity of the planet. Cultural diversity and biological diversity go hand in hand.”


Rather than promote a development that encourages what she calls “monocultures of the mind” which impoverish a community and turn away tourists who are not interested in seeing more of the same, any development anywhere, especially development carried out on such a large stretch of precious prime agricultural land, should support and encourage diversity.


Rather than address this heritage in a holistic way, the chapter on “Archaeology and Cultural Heritage” (Chapter 11) “addresses the potential impacts of the scheme on archaeological and cultural heritage features. This involved establishing the existing man-made heritage at the site and determining how it might change as a result of the construction and operation of the proposed development” of a golf course and country club.


Although the authors of this chapter acknowledge that “virtually all landscapes have cultural associations because virtually all landscapes have been affected in some way by human action or perception,” they do not delve into the impact of the proposed development on the “cultural associations” and the “human perception” they mention, unless they are merely referring to whether the area will look “golf-course green” in summer or not.


In this context, the question of the working language raised during the Public Consultation held in Rabat is not a peripheral issue. The EIA should have been made available in Maltese, mainly because for many of the farmers who would be uprooted by the proposed project, English does not form part of their culture.


This should have been immediately clear to the consultants who claim to have delved into the culture of the farmers and their community. The fact that the EIA did not reach this logical conclusion on what should have appeared to them immediately as a fundamental issue proves that the EIA fails to take the culture/s of the farmers seriously into account. It suggests a lack of respect and a lack of competence in cultural matters.


Regenerating Cultural Heritage Pays


The EIA ignores the fundamental fact that farming is not only about cultivating land: it’s a way of life; it’s a whole culture that is tied to the particular land worked by the farmers and their families and uprooting them means destroying that way of life.


The analysis of the impact on the “cultural heritage” of the farming community and the land ignores the highly positive long-term, economic effects of sustaining local culture, of investing in and eventually regenerating (rather than uprooting and destroying) cultural diversity both for the national community and for the tourist industry in particular. Malta should be investing in projects that have a positive effect on our natural and cultural resources, such as organic farming, agri-tourism, eco-tourism and cultural tourism, not destroying what has survived the onslaught of short-sighted development ever since Independence.


The cultural organization Inizjamed requests a thorough review of the chapter/s in the EIA dealing with this theme because they say almost nothing about Cultural Heritage as laid down by the Planning Authority’s terms of reference and by common sense.


Angelo Xuereb was perfectly right in 1991 when he wrote these words as part of the public consultation process for the Structure Plan: “Golf course near Hotel Verdala is not possible because

1. Most of the land is privately owned
2. The land is arable and should be conserved
3. The buildings will spoil the environment."

(quoted verbatim from 'Summary of Public Consultation, Structure Plan for
the Maltese Islands January 1991')




Note: I would like to thank Julian Manduca for the Angelo Xuereb quote and Harry Vassallo and others for their suggestions.


A recent article with an interesting perspective on farming in Malta is “Farming the Future” by Harry Vassallo, Chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika, the Maltese Green Party http://www.timesofmalta.com/core/article.php?id=109250&hilite=harry+vassallo


For Vandana Shiva’s critique of monocultures of the mind and other monocultures, have a look at http://www.uoguelph.ca/CIP/shiva.pdf



Adrian Grima

October 2002