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Drag racing track upgrade should respect residents, Birzebbuga Heritage NGO says

A Birżebbuġa heritage NGO wants any development on the drag racing track in Hal Far to be restricted to the existing site and include sound barriers.

Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa was reacting to an application filed by the Malta Motorsport Federation to upgrade the track knowns as the Kwart ta’ Mil.

The federation wants to improve the standard of the 100,000sq.m track to be able to host international events.

But apart from the upgrading proposal for the drag racing track, the federation is also fronting an application for the development of a new race circuit track on 82,900sq.m of government-owned industrial land. However, this application is currently being revised to include a further 20,000sq.m of land allocated by the government.

The federation wants to create a motorsport hub at Hal Far, which currently hosts the drag racing track and a go-karting facility.

Both applications are being proposed on brownfield sites and do not directly impact on the natural environment, but concerns have been expressed on noise and light pollution.

The Environment and Resources Authority has called for noise and light studies to assess the impact of the new racing track on nearby Natura 2000 sites but called for no further studies to assess the impact of the works proposed on the drag racing track, noting that the site is already used for this purpose.

Speaking to MaltaToday last month, federation president Duncan Micallef had announced that a new masterplan for the motorsport hub will be published later this year after the government allocated more land for the project.

While the motorsport application is still at the initial screening stage the application to upgrade the kwart ta’ mil track is already being assessed by a case officer.

The application refers to the demolition and reconstruction of spectator stands with underlying ancillary facilities including sanitary facilities and a retail shop and a four storey development set to host stores, offices, two catering establishments and a hall.

Noise pollution concerns

On its part the Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa which last year had spearheaded a campaign against the relocation of a model aircraft track in close vicinity to a protected Natura 2000 site has made it clear that they have nothing against those practicing their hobby in the existing drag racing track.

“We find no objection to motorsport hobbyists continue practicing their hobby in the same way as they have done till the present day.  But there should be greater respect for residents who live in the area.”

The organisation also expressed its concern that the proposed upgrade and extension of the drag racing track to host international events, could increase noise levels and light pollution during organised events. They also noted that apart from the impact on residents in nearby towns and villages increased noise levels would also impact residents of the nearby Hal Far open centre.

In view of these problems the organisation insists that the racetrack should not be extended beyond its current area and that the area is enclosed by noise barriers which should be given priority over the commercial developments envisaged in the application.

The organisation is also calling for the imposition of clear noise limits in a way that motorcars exceeding these levels are automatically excluded from the track. Moreover, the organisation is insisting that noise measuring equipment is installed and that live results are made accessible to the Żurrieq, Ħal Safi and Birżebbuġa local councils.

All light installed on the track should be of the ‘total cut off’ type in a way that would not beam into the sky, and lighting is restricted to areas where it is really needed.

The NGO is also calling for studies on the traffic impact of the development noting that the Ħal Far  road which consists of a ‘single lane’, is vital for the entry and exit of cars  from the locality which should not be hindered by increased traffic during big events.

Development likely to uncover historical remains

The Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa has also warned that works in the area may uncover historical remains, related to the British era airfield and nearby prehistoric remains which include two neolithic menhirs located in the immediate vicinity of the track.

But this issue is already being addressed by the Superintendence  for Cultural Heritage which has reminded the applicants that the  site is archaeologically sensitive, with several discoveries made in the area.

It warned them that ground disturbance may uncover cultural heritage features that may necessitate amendments to the proposed plans.

But the Superintendence also declared that it is not opposed to the proposed development, and it will be inspecting the site which overlaps with the former Hal Far airfield “to get a better understanding of the surrounding context in view of proposed structures”.

BirdLife insists on one assessment for both applications

Birdlife Malta which is concerned on the impact the projects on bird colonies in the coastal cliffs and nearby Natura 2000 sites, is objecting to the separate assessment of the two proposals. The bird conservation group is insisting that both the upgrade of Kwart ta’ Mil and the application to construct the new hub should be assessed holistically.

“Such combined development should be studied altogether to define the environmental impacts and work out a set of feasible mitigation measures which would take into account cumulative pressures,” BirdLife said in a submission to the PA.

The organisation noted that the drag racing track is located  just 120m from the Natura 2000 site, which makes it even nearer to protected areas than the proposed circuit which would be around 600m away.