The Planning Authority is still waiting for construction companies with sprawling sites in Ħal Għaxaq, at the center of an investigation by The Shift, to determine development parameters on their site, four years down the line.
Replying to questions, the PA said two construction companies with adjacent sites in the area have still not determined the parameters, meaning that the companies are not yet bound by basic planning considerations such as height limits for buildings or boundary walls.
On most sites involved, illegal development was either sanctioned or unsuccessfully curtailed via enforcement notices.
The process requires the submission of an outline development application on behalf of Rockcut Ltd and J Micallef Builders Ltd, and was started by the PA in October 2017. The outline development application needs to be filed by both companies due to the fact that it is meant to delineate the parameters of the area that covers both of their operating grounds.
In a meeting with the PA in relation to the outline development application, the applicants were told that “any pending or new planning applications within this area of containment” will be processed after the outline development application is submitted, the Authority said.
This implies that a separate application filed by J Micallef Builders Ltd to sanction its batching plant (PA/02673/21) should also be on hold until the PA’s review of this outline development permit from 2017 is completed.
While the adjacent sites are located Outside Development Zone, “the sites are within the boundaries of a designated area of containment” for industrial and commercial purposes, the PA added.
Areas of containment were determined by the local plan covering the southern area of Malta, drafted in 2006 as part of an island-wide rationalisation exercise. The developments, at the time already visibly at odds with the surrounding agricultural areas, were designated as areas of containment to cordon off development on those sites.
A map of the areas of containment in Ħal Għaxaq shows how the developments grew to their present footprint, with the rationalisation occurring more than a decade after the first garages illegally appeared in Triq iċ-Ċimiterju and tal-Barrani road – the area was already impacted by unregulated development.
The PA is yet to answer questions related to the site operated by Barbros Group in tal-Barrani road.
Conflicting permits and enforcement notices
The PA referred to a sanctioning permit that had been granted to Rockcut Ltd in 2005, PA/04086/05. The 2005 permit had sanctioned “existing building” as well as an “open storage yard for heavy plant and vehicles”.
However, the permit only refers to Rockcut Ltd’s site, which is significantly smaller than the adjacent site operated by J Micallef Builders, one that is subject to a separate enforcement notice, EC/00221/17.
It also fails to explain the rationale behind the decision to sanction such a development, which buildings were sanctioned at the time, and whether there was any new development on the site since.
In fact, the PA’s spokesperson did not explain why Rockcut Ltd was essentially exonerated from an enforcement notice that was only enforceable 16 days after two applications filed by the company were determined.
The applications, PA/4147/09 and PA/0958/10, are still pending a case officer’s decision more than a decade after they were filed.
As for the larger site operated by J Micallef Builders, also in Triq iċ-Ċimiterju, and enforcement notice issued in 2017 (EC/00221/17) states the development is not covered by any permits related to the site.
The four-year delay
According to the PA’s response, after the first meeting with the applicants (Rockcut Ltd and J Micallef Builders Ltd) in October 2017, an outline development application was submitted by April of the following year.
The application, PA/5778/18, was validated by July of the same year. The PA said the application is still under review. Meanwhile, the plant continues operating.
“A request for information was issued by the PA on 24 August 2018, requesting the submission of a traffic impact assessment (TIA) and 3D views,” the PA spokesperson said.
The architect then requested a suspension of the application to be able to provide the documents. The traffic impact assessment was submitted in June 2019, but the PA “found the TIA to be unacceptable”.
“A further letter to the architect outlining all the pending information was issued in June 2019, with the suspension period elapsing in October 2020,” the PA added.
A month later, the applicants changed architect and a revised traffic impact assessment was submitted in November. The internal consultation on this assessment is still ongoing.