A stretch of rubble walls, built illegally on idyllic agricultural land on the outskirts of Nadur by the children of construction magnate Joseph Portelli, is a project selected by the Maltese authorities to be supported by EU funds.
Research carried out by The Shift shows that more than €200,000 from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) have been allocated towards the project, even though the rubble walls were built without a planning permit leading to enforcement action by the Planning Authority.
Documents seen by The Shift state that Tristan Portelli, the eldest son of the Gozitan developer, has been allocated €92,323 for the building and restoration of dry stone and rubble walls in Nadur.
His sister, 24-year-old Chloe, registered as a farmer while working as a General Manager of her father’s Quaint hotel chain, is the beneficiary of another €122,806 of EU funds for the same purpose.
A spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrino Azzopardi confirmed that the rubble walls, built metres away from Nadur’s landmark Ta’ Kenuna Tower, were selected for funding under the 2014-2020 programme. He also said that “no funds have been issued yet in relation to these applications”.
EU funds are not supposed to be given to support any type of illegal development. Projects qualifying for EU assistance must make sure that all permits are acquired before any funds are disbursed.
Zrinzo Azzopardi’s spokesperson would not comment on whether the funds will still be given to the Portellis who completed the project before obtaining a permit.
The Shift is informed that after completing the project, Tristian and Chloe applied to sanction the illegalities.
Though issued through the EU budget, the allocation of EAFRD funds is not controlled by Brussels. Instead, the local authorities are responsible for selecting the relevant projects that will benefit from millions provided by the EU to foster the competitiveness of agriculture and ensure the sustainable management of rural areas.
The saga of the rubble walls built in Nadur over some 22,000 square metres of agricultural land, known as Gebel l-Ahmar, has been going on for years.
It was only last year, after numerous reports and when the project was almost completed, that the PA issued an enforcement order to stop the development and order the reinstatement of the fields.
Despite this warning, the development, originally started by Portelli and then passed on to his children, stayed intact.
To make matters worse, his daughter, who owns half of the large agricultural tract bough by her father, also applied to build a large ‘store’, commanding stunning views of Malta and Comino across the channel, to “store her crops”.
So far, the PA has turned down the request. Fresh plans have been submitted to the PA, downsizing the store.
In its report on the application to sanction the illegal rubble walls, most of them built afresh in areas where none existed, the Environment and Resources Authority recommended outright rejection of the permit.
Dubbing the development a “visual intrusion”, ERA said that if approved the development will end up “breaking a presently undisturbed skyline” on the surrounding rural environment.
ERA is also concerned that the ‘agriculture store’ will be the start of a new residence, built in a piecemeal fashion, as already happened in many other ODZ areas using ‘farming’ as an excuse.
The Shift is informed that the project by the Portellis is not the only one selected for EU funds despite illegalities.