A massive development in a pristine Bidnija valley was always intended to be a sheep farm, according to the two men behind it.
The two-storey building in the previously untouched Wied tal-Ħżejjen has been widely criticised as having been pushed through the planning process under the guise of being a sheep farm, only to be converted into a hotel.
The original planning application was fronted by registered farmer Jason Vella with the help of his friend and architect Konrad Bezzina.
It immediately rang alarm bells due to its sheer scale and location.
Several piecemeal amendments to the original application spearheaded by Bezzina have seen the addition of guest rooms, a retail outlet and a farmer’s residence.
In an interview, Vella says the sprawling building is indeed a hotel… for sheep.
“The dream for this place was to keep sheep and to have people come see them and learn the process of how things are done. I’ve always believed in the potential of these animals,” he told Times of Malta.
Alarm bells were further sounded last year when Vella’s name on the application vanished, replaced by Bidnija Farming Enterprise, a company owned by architect Bezzina.
Why are they putting their nose in my business?
Bezzina says he handled the business side of things to help Vella cut through the bureaucracy and focus on the farming aspect. He jokes that all he hopes to gain from the project “is some free cheese”.
The pair, who say they have been friends since their teenage years, insist the original plans were always for a sheep farm.
“This project is a project I’ve enjoyed working on. Jason is my friend so I enjoy helping him out. It’s interesting,” Bezzina said.
Vella in turn says the idea of opening up the farm to visitors and allowing them to experience the sheep-rearing process only came about after the original application was submitted.
He dismissed “speculation” that he is merely fronting the development for third parties, insisting that he is the sole owner of the land.
“I’m getting tired of hearing these things. At first, I thought it was funny and I used to ask myself, what could they be thinking? But there’s a limit.”
Vella has recently gone on a public relations blitz, even issuing a statement claiming that the public had “misinterpreted” his intentions for the property.
The sheep farmer said plans for guest rooms and a residence have been axed, leaving more space for the animals. On the use of virgin land, Vella says Malta’s urban sprawl has left farmers with few choices.
“When it comes to farming, you’re not allowed to build near a town.
“Nowadays it’s out of the question to walk your sheep through the streets to take them grazing.”
Vella questions why he is being singled out for simply doing his job.
“This is my business, which as you can see is a hotel – a hotel for sheep.
“Why are they putting their nose in my business?”
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