The Ombudsman and his Commissioner for Environment and Planning have sent their report condemning controversial “development” works in Comino to the Prime Minister and the House of Representatives after the Planning Authority rejected their recommendations and failed to take remedial action.
The Planning Authority claims the service culverts do not require a planning permit as they are not considered to be “development”.
In his final opinion, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning determined that the works to create a service culvert on the dirt road leading to the Blue Lagoon, conducted between February and March 2021, breached the Development and Planning Act (Chapter 552 of the Laws on Malta). The works were carried out without the Gozo Ministry first obtaining a permit despite the area being a protected Natura 2000 site.
The architect commissioned by the Gozo Ministry for the works in a Natura 2000 site was the Labour Party’s Organising Secretary, William Lewis.
The Ombudsman’s report said that in February of last year, the Gozo Ministry wrote to the Planning Authority asking for an exemption from planning permission to carry out works near Blue Lagoon under Article 70 of the Planning Development Act, which allows emergency works to be done without a permit in the interest of public safety. This covered the initial plan for works on an existing water culvert, the repair of rubble walls, and the resurfacing of the road leading to Blue Lagoon.
The idea of adding further service culverts was proposed in January 2021 following consultation with Enemalta, with the reasoning that since works were set to be carried out in the area, these should be done in one go. However, the Ombudsman’s report notes that “while the service culvert is a work that ought to be carried out before resurfacing, this does not mean that this service culvert qualifies under emergency works with concerns to public safety”.
The Ombudsman recommended that a stop notice should be issued, and the site should be returned to its original state, while the Planning Authority should impose fines in favour of a fund for Comino’s environment.
Documentation presented by the office of the Ombudsman shows however that in reply to the Commissioner for Environment and Planning final opinion, the Planning Authority insisted that the “emergency works to ensure public safety carried out by the government” covered all the works that were undertaken on the road, irrespective of the types of work. It goes on to further state that the inclusion of a service culvert does not require a development permit since the works undertaken are not considered “development”, despite the area’s protection.
The Commissioner for Environment and Planning replied to the Planning Authority’s position expressing dismay and disagreement with several of the arguments presented by the Planning Authority and concludes: “As it appears that the Planning Authority will not take any adequate and appropriate action on the final opinion, a copy of this letter will be sent to the Ombudsman so that a copy of the report and recommendation will be sent to the prime minister”.
A letter was then sent by the Ombudsman to Prime Minister Robert Abela drawing attention to the Planning Authority’s lack of action on such a sensitive site. A second identical letter was also sent to the Speaker of House of Representatives Anglu Farrugia.