The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal today rejected a challenge to a planning permit for a Marsascala water polo pitch. The new pool is intended to replace the one currently used by Marsascala Waterpolo Club, which was handed over to the owners of the American University of Malta on a 99-year lease in 2016.
The new facility is set to be developed along the shore, its structure jutting out forty metres from the coastline. The appeal, which was filed by Moviment Graffitti and twelve residents, centred on eight objection areas, the strongest of which was that the pool is incompatible with the designation of the bay as a zone for the development of a yacht marina and maritime-related facilities.
The appellants argued that a freshwater pool could be situated on land – as the national pool at Tal-Qroqq for example – and that an exercise to explore alternative sites had been superficial.
The tribunal rejected these concerns, stating that it disagreed with the suggestion that a “water polo pitch is not synonymous with the sea,” adding that “a water polo pitch qualifies as maritime-related shore-based activity and hence the principle of the development is in conformity with the policy.”
It also said that the construction of the pool does not exclude the development of a yacht marina in the rest of the bay.
As for the thoroughness of the alternative site selection, the tribunal said that since the pool is dedicated to the Marsascala Sports Club, the site selection had to be limited to Marsascala.
It similarly dismissed the other points of appeal and reconfirmed the permit.
The appeal has attracted interest because of its connection with the granting of a large area in Marsascala to Sadeen Education Investment Limited to develop premises and facilities of the American University of Malta.
To date, the AUM has fallen far short of the number of students it was projected to attract, and none of the planned developments at Marsascala have been carried out. The extant pool sits on land granted to Sadeen in 2016, following which the sports club was given an eviction notice on the basis that it was “required for public purposes.”
The project has also courted controversy after it was planned in secret negotiations involving officials at the Office of the Prime Minister, with the government’s commitment to develop and deliver a new pool to the sports club then enshrined in a secret contract.
The contract only came to light in the course of the appeal – it contains a clause that specifies that the agreement had to remain “strictly and absolutely private and confidential between the parties.”
Although the agreement was produced during the appeal proceedings, an entire clause was redacted from the copy shown in the process. Sources familiar with the agreement said that this clause may specify compensation due to the sports club if the government fails to deliver the pool.
This has raised concerns that the pool project was negotiated and decided in meetings at the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Planning Authority was merely used as a rubber stamp.
Featured photo credit: Daniel Cilia