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Mġarr Council has not objected to Fomm ir-Riħ project by Mayor’s cousin

2019 Paul Vella Mayor Mgarr endorse Fomm Ir Rih project by Ballut Blocks
Mġarr Mayor Paul Vella sees no issues with the project application filed by his cousin at Fomm Ir Riħ

Paul Vella, the developer behind the controversial project at Fomm Ir-Riħ has his cousin as the mayor of the relevant local council, which has not challenged the project Outside Development Zone (ODZ) despite over 300 objections filed by residents with the Planning Authority.

The mayor of Mġarr, also called Paul Vella, has not taken up residents’ concerns despite the large number of objections filed on the project. On the contrary, he told the public to “look at the bright side” of such a development.

The development at Fomm Ir-Riħ would mean that the existing buildings in ODZ, which are either not in use or used for agricultural storage, would be turned into 16 suites, a reception and luggage area, a breakfast and dining area and a space for a gallery.

When questioned on why the local council had not objected to the development at Fomm Ir-Riħ, the mayor replied that he found no issues with the ODZ project and application filed by his cousin, a Director of Ballut Blocks Ltd.

“Look at the bright side… Those who live nearby could also benefit from the project,” the mayor said when asked about his opinion on the project.

The developer claims that the project, meant to attract tourism, will have the same footprint as the existing structures with the new premises including a 50 square metre pool.

Both the mayor and his cousin have shared interests in beneficial ownership of the Cottonera Waterfront project consortium where Finance Minister Edward Scicluna also holds shares, according to the Malta Financial Services Authority register.

The developer is a director of Ballut Blocks Services Ltd while the Mġarr mayor is a shareholder of Halmann Vella Group (12.5% of the total shares). Both of these companies are shareholders of Cottonera Waterfront project.

Paul Vella Fomm Ir Rih Mgarr
Infographic showing the connections between the Mayor and the developer – both named Paul Vella

In 2003, the Vella brothers, who had been running the family businesses selling tiles and blocks hand in hand since 1950, split. Halmann Vella was set up and run by Vincent Vella and his family, while his brothers continued to run Ballut Blocks.

The two groups of Halmann Vella and Ballut Blocks have a large amount of sister companies with the two families and involvement of their members remaining separate, but they unite in Cottonera Waterfront Group plc where both companies are listed as the biggest shareholders.

Ballut Blocks Services and Halmann Holdings have 160,000 shares each in Cottonera Waterfront Group plc.

Half of Halmann Holdings’ shares are owned by Halmann Vella Group, of which Mayor Vella owns 12.5% of the shares.

Minister Edward Scicluna’s company Applied Economics Consulting Limited is also listed as a shareholder with 20,000 shares.

When questioned by The Shift on why the local council had not taken up objections by residents, the mayor said the proposed development was listed on the agenda of the next council meeting on 13 January. At the time of publishing this article, no lodged objection is seen on the Planning Authority portal, with the deadline for objections set to 3 February.

The mayor told The Shift he had no beneficial interest in the project.

Moviment Graffiti, FAA and Nature Trust have sent in their objections with the latter saying that “the site in question is identified in the Northwest Malta Local Plan as a Category 3 Rural Settlement. Policy NWRS4 re Category 3 Rural Settlements [that] does not permit new development taking up more land” and adding that “only rehabilitation, and redevelopment of existing buildings, as defined in policy NWRS 3 is allowable”.

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