A large industrial complex once used to produce tomato products by the Magro Group in Victoria, Gozo is soon to be turned into a complex of small flats by developer Joseph Portelli and his associates.
The Planning Authority granted its approval of this development, pending for many years, on March 23, just three days before the elections.
Although the complex of small, enclosed flats, some with tiny roof pools, is still on plan, Portelli, together with Mark Agius, known as Ta’ Dirjanu, and Daniel Refalo are already marketing the project and trying to sell units.
Named Hal-Gelmus, the complex is expected to comprise at least 103 apartments and more than 70 garages and will be situated just a few corners away from Victoria centre and its iconic Citadella.
Apart from Portelli and his associates, the Gozitan Magro family, known for its tomato paste business, is expected to earn millions of euros from this development.
Industry sources told The Shift that although the project is to be constructed by Portelli’s company, it is not yet known what John Magro’s exact involvement is.
The application approved in the week before the election bears the name of Magro, who declared ownership of the site. However, in another permit, issued in 2019 for the demolition of the site in preparation for construction works, the applicant was Mark Agius, usually the frontman for the Nadur construction boss.
“It appears that Magro entered into some deal with Portelli over the more than 5,000 square metre plot. Probably, he either has a promise of sale to sell the site to Portelli or he has some profit-sharing arrangement. The pair know how to make a buck,” a Gozitan contractor told The Shift.
Originally, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage raised several objections to the project, particularly due to the concentration of buildings in one area, height limitations issues and the plan to pull down two old, vernacular buildings.
However, in a now-familiar pattern with the Planning Authority, Portelli’s architect made a series of small amendments in piecemeal fashion as she went back and forth with the plans, and these eventually cleared the route for this latest permit.
Maria Schembri Grima, appointed Chairman of the Building and Construction Authority by the government, is once again appearing as the architect of Portelli’s latest project.
In the last few years, Joseph Portelli has become one of Malta’s busiest developers, and has come under increasing scrutiny for the proliferation of massive projects all over Malta and Gozo, often changing the face of typical village cores and townscapes.
Involved in various controversies, Portelli has made a name for managing to get the PA to issue permits which appear impossible, as well as for his proximity to certain Labour ministers, particularly those responsible for the Planning Authority.
While he publicly boasts of ‘making donations to the two main political parties, developments he built illegally are allowed to continue operating without permits and in breach of the law. At the same time, his illegal businesses, such as a massive concrete batching plant built on public land in Kercem, is used by Portelli to supply illegal material to government projects he is given, including the building of roads and sports facilities in Gozo.