The Qala Local Council has slammed “the deliberate inaction” by the Planning Authority over legal proceedings aimed at revoking parts of Joseph Portelli’s largest development in Gozo, which in total occupies a space the size of more than three football pitches.
The Council, in conjunction with heritage organisation Din L-Art Ħelwa, had initiated proceedings to revoke the permits for a row of 62 flats that are part of a larger project – one of Gozo’s largest ever residential developments – that sprawls over an area larger than three football pitches.
Construction of the 62 flats, which stretch along a road for 100 metres, is now almost complete.
“Despite constant reminders having been sent for the past five months, the PA has not held the hearing to decide upon the revocations. In the meantime, the massive blocks are being built,” the Council said.
Together with the NGO, the Council based the request for revocation on incomplete filings in the application process, false declaration of ownership by applicants, failure of the Planning Authority to declare that the project spills over development zones, and “salami slicing” (a large project split into separate applications by different individuals to evade a possible Environment Impact Assessment).
The Planning Authority had granted permits for the row of flats targeted in the revocation application the day after the false declaration of ownership and magnitude of the project was revealed last January. The hearing in which the permits were granted had been brought forward by two weeks.
In response to questions by The Shift on whether he would investigate the Authority for possible wrongdoing, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia had said that the role of the “Minister is to ensure that the Authority executes its functions effectively”.
He added that the law “entitles every individual” to request revocation of any permit within the parameters set by Article 80 of the Development Planning Act. The council and NGO filed for revocation under the terms of this law.
“Should any such complaints be brought before the Planning Board through the appropriate legal channels,” Farrugia had said, “the PA shall carry out its legal obligation to investigate and decide. This has always been the case and Minister is to ensure the PA continues to exercise these functions at law (without interfering in the process).”
Tara Cassar, a planning law expert who co-drafted the revocation application, told The Shift: “A fair hearing can only be ensured if the case is heard in a timely manner. Otherwise, if the development occurs in the interim, you could end up having made a futile request.”
Following the Council’s statement, The Shift wrote to the Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia again, referring to his earlier comments and asked if people could have confidence in the law and the Planning Authority if developers are allowed to complete the building before the case for permit revocation is even heard. Farrugia did not reply.
Neither did Farrugia reply to a question on last year’s introduction of a €500 fee for revocation applications – prior to that, there was no fee. Civil society organisations and local councils have been lamenting that, given their limited funds, the fee has made it more financially burdensome for them to fight abusive developments.
Qala’s mayor Paul Buttigieg has said that the council has spent €4,000 on the two revocation applications and that this money could instead have been spent on improvements in the locality.
Meanwhile, the developers, Excel Investments Limited, a company owned by Joseph Portelli, who is the majority shareholder, and his associates Mark Agius and Daniel Refalo, have reactivated the fourth application for another 64 flats within the larger project.