The Planning Authority withheld crucial documents related to a controversial development application to turn an abandoned explosives factory in the outskirts of Dingli into a ‘tourist development’ – thus facilitating the proposed granting of this permit, The Shift has learned. These documents indicate that the project is actually planned to include a banned residential element.
The documents, which show that the ‘tourist development’ term being used by the developers is just a euphemism for a cluster of disallowed residential bungalows, were uploaded for public view only after the closure of the consultation and objections period, and just in time for next week’s expected approval of the development application.
Investigations by The Shift into the controversial Pulvich Explosives factory, located just across from the majestic Dingli cliffs, shows that while the documents had already been in the possession of the PA for over a year, they were only uploaded to the public database after the objections period had closed.
This means that objectors, some 500, were precluded from analysing these documents and presenting further representations as to why the ODZ abandoned factory should not be developed in the middle of a Natura 2000 site.
The documents, seen by The Shift, include two crucial Project Description Statements prepared by the architects of the applicant, JG Periti, which clearly reveal that the 14 units being proposed are to be used as “holiday homes” and “retreat residences” and not as holiday complex rooms as the developers and the PA claim.
According to planning rules, it is strictly forbidden to build residences in this area.
The hidden documents also include the original 1987 building permit issued to the proprietors by then Public Works Minister Lorry Sant, clearly stating the development was only to be used as an explosives factory and “not as furnished holiday flats for tourists”.
Despite this clear condition and numerous planning policies precluding the redevelopment of this factory into anything else, the PA is now recommending the issue of a permit and has scheduled its green light for next week.
How an abandoned factory will be turned into a gold mine
Set far away from any other homes on the outskirts of Dingli, just metres away from the ridges of the Dingli cliffs, the Pugliesevic family from Dingli were granted a permit, just before the 1987 election, to turn their disused land into an explosives factory.
The permit was issued in this particular area to ensure that, due to the dangerous nature of explosives, the factory would be located in a safe environment, far away from any residences or social activity, in case of an accident.
The permit made it clear that the land – bought on very cheap terms due to its remoteness and undevelopable status – was only to be used as an explosives factory and nothing else.
While the factory – spread over an area as large as a football ground – was successful for a few years, it was closed a decade later as explosives, used mainly in the construction industry, were replaced with modern technology.
Since then, the Pugliesevic family, either alone or jointly with well-connected businessmen, has applied persistently over the years to turn their unused building into other more lucrative businesses such as garages, storage facilities, residences and even a SPA hotel.
All these applications have been turned down over the past two decades, including at appeals stage, with both the PA and ERA insisting that the area is a Natura 2000 site, of ecological importance, and a special area of conservation which does not allow any form of development.
Sudden ‘interest’ from Infrastructure Malta
In 2017, soon after Minister Ian Borg – also a Dingi resident and former Mayor of the locality – took over the political direction of the Planning Authority, the Pugliesevics revived their interest in the site, presenting an application for a Spa and resort to replace their abandoned factory.
In the meantime, Infrastructure Malta – also under the political wing of Minister Borg – began paying close attention to the rural area, redoing the roads leading to the factory and inserting a new water pipeline along the road, in which there are no other residences or developments bar the abandoned factory. The heavy-duty water main, which cost taxpayers €350,000 to install, stops just metres away from the Pulvich Explosives factory.
Both these projects, paid for out of public funds, are now the subject of magisterial inquiries on possible abuse.
In 2020, having finally recognised that planning permission for a hotel in the area would be refused, the applicants submitted a fresh application to develop the site into a complex of residential bungalows. This application was later also withdrawn and reworked into a new application for ‘holiday homes’ as part of a ‘touristic development’.
The Malta Tourism Authority has now said it had ‘no objection’ to such a development, despite the hundreds of objections, while the ERA made a spectacular U-turn and withdrew its objections.
The PA has also done an about-turn, and is attempting to justify this change of heart by claiming that the project would be acceptable, as long as it’s for a luxury tourism development.
Its case officer, Jonathan Orlando, is now recommending the permit be granted.
To mitigate the PA’s concerns, and in contradiction of the original 1987 permit, the case officer is also proposing a public deed in which the developers are bound to use the site for tourism purposes only, and as one functional unit. The deed will also note that none of the units “can be sold or transferred separately”.
The PA will be discussing the permit next week.
The current application is being fronted by Maria Sant – one of the shareholders of JB Stores and operators of the Hotel Santana in St Paul’s Bay, even though she does noy own the land. The manager of the hotel owned by the JB Stores family is George Micallef – a prominent member of the MHRA who also sits on the board of the Malta Tourism Authority.
Featured photo: Location of the Pulvich Explosives factory at Dingli Cliffs, in one of the remotest areas of Malta and a Natura 2000 site, where the supposed ‘tourist development’ would be situated, if the PA grants it a permit.