Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli filed a new application to the Planning Authority seeking permission to expand his planned Ħal Gelmus project in Gozo’s capital just weeks after the Planning Authority issued him with a controversial permit in March.
In a move that’s becoming a familiar tactic, Portelli, through his front man Mark Agius, known as Ta’ Dirjanu, filed a new application on 22 April to amend the permit he had been granted just the previous month.
Through his architect, Maria Schembri Grima, who is also the chairperson of the government’s Building and Construction Authority, Portelli has now asked the Planning Authority to give him permission to expand the highly contested residential development by a further 13 flats and 33 new garages. He also wants to transform two of the residential units and a garage in the same complex into shops.
Three days before the general elections held in March, the Planning Authority approved Portelli’s request to convert the former tomato products factory, owned by businessman John Magro, into a 103-unit apartment complex with 70 garages.
Known as Ħal Gelmus and situated close to the centre of Victoria, the project had been awaiting Planning Authority approval for years. The authorities expressed major concerns about its potential impact, particularly due to the commercial aspect of the project and the traffic it was expected to create if shops were incorporated in the plan.
In order to try and unblock the stalemate, provide a solution and placate the Planning Authority’s concerns, Portelli and his associates presented fresh plans, eliminating all the shops that had formed part of the project and reducing the number of units.
In doing so, Portelli neutralised the objections against the project while reducing his costs. Due to the scaling down of his proposed development, there was no requirement for further updating of costly studies such as traffic impact assessments.
In response, the Planning Authority withdrew its objections and approved the project on 23 March, three days before the elections.
A few weeks later, Portelli’s architect, construction regulator Maria Schembri Grima, filed an additional application for the extra units, apparently attempting to simply return to his original objectives for the project.
The new application seeks to amend his new permit by allowing him to expand the development further as well as re-insert the commercial element that had been removed specifically in order to address the Planning Authority’s objections.
Portelli has become one of Malta’s most controversial developers in the last few years and has been filmed boasting of his regular contacts with various ministers as well as his benevolence in making significant donations to both political parties.
The government has been closing both eyes to Portelli’s illegalities, including a concrete batching plant he built illegally on government land in Gozo and that continues to operate illegally to this day.
Portelli owns a number of companies and is the regular recipient of multi-million-euro tenders from the government, including contracts to build roads and a new aquatic centre in Gozo.