Planning Authority restricts access to public objections on its website, retracts decision

Updated to reflect the PA’s retraction of its decision

The Planning Authority (PA) has restricted the public’s right to access documents outlining objections to a planning permit, with NGO Moviment Graffitti slamming the PA for choosing to only allow applicants and their architects to view objections.

Yet just a few hours after the decision was highlighted in news reports, the PA retracted its decision, claiming that it had been taken in light of vague GDPR rules on disclosure of identity in the public domain when objecting to applications on its site.

Since the decision was overturned, the public will once again be able to use the PA’s eApps system to search about relevant documents that have been submitted in relation to an application they are following, including accessing the objections other citizens or NGOs may have made. The decision was communicated through an internal memo at the PA.

The opposition against controversial PA applications is usually spurred by such public objections, with media reports that would then outline how many people have objected to a project serving as an estimate of the number of people opposing the project.

“After we revealed earlier this morning that the PA had hidden the thousands of objections for all pending applications in front of the PA, a decision which allowed access to these objections open only to developers and their architects, the PA has changed its decision,” Graffitti said, adding that “the PA ‘apologised’ for its behaviour and that environment minister Aaron Farrugia had abdicated responsibility for the decision by claiming he was not informed”.

The Shift has repeatedly outlined the extent of the inadequacy of the PA’s processes, including detailed analyses of how illegal development is retroactively sanctioned to accommodate developers and investigations detailing ineffective enforcement.

Moviment Graffitti, an NGO that has taken the authority to task over numerous decisions such as the approval of the DB project in Pembroke, described the decision as “shameful” and a result of the “greed and filth there is at the authority as it tries to hide the most basic information in a system which already works against its citizens”.

“This was done to ensure that developers, ministers and the PA itself don’t look bad when there are a record numbers of objections from the public. This tactic of hiding objections is the only road for underhanded dealing,” the group’s original statement reads.

The group placed responsibility for the decision at the hands of Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia and PA CEO Martin Saliba, further accusing the authorities of attempting to obstruct the group’s environmental activism. In May, Saliba was heavily criticised for downplaying the rampant overdevelopment occurring in the country, describing it as Malta’s inevitable transition into ‘the modern era’.

While reiterating its lack of faith in Saliba’s impartiality and ability to transparently run the PA, Graffitti warned the PA and the environment minister that they will face “a tough battle” with environmental NGOs and thousands of residents across Malta and Gozo “whose right to have a voice about decisions which affect them directly is being taken away”.

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