The Planning Authority has decided to sanction major illegalities spanning 13 years at the Aria club complex in Iklin, accepting new plans submitted by government consultant and architect Robert Musumeci on behalf of his clients Dominic Micallef and Raymond Desira.
During a short hearing, all three government-appointed members of the Planning Commission – chairman Martin Camilleri and members Anthony Borg and Frank Ivan Caruana Catania – turned the recommended refusal by the planning directorate into an approval.
According to the new permit, the owners of the ‘Aria’ complex, known in the past as ‘Vibes’ and ‘Liquid’, will be allowed to retain most of the illegal structures built.
Their only consequence is a payment of €34,000 for the whole 13 years in which they were still allowed to use the complex for commercial purposes despite an enforcement notice issued in 2009, never enforced by the Planning Authority, while the events at the club drew millions over the years.
Current planning laws, enacted in 2012, impose a possible daily fine of €50 a day in case of illegalities following the issue of an enforcement notice. However, the maximum is capped at €50,000 – it’s worth the profits for people like Micallef and Desira to do as they please and then apply to sanction the illegalities.
The law does not allow for the closure of the premises when illegalities are in place, as is the case in other countries. This gives abusers the upper hand.
The penalties have not changed since 2012. The Labour administration has never seen the need for revision, despite increasing illegalities sprouting across the country.
The Shift News reported on the case and how, in 2021, following years of trying to sanction Aria’s illegalities without success, Dominic Micallef – the real owner of the complex even though he used Raymond Desira as an applicant – dumped his long-standing architect Kenneth Camilleri and instead employed the services of Robert Musumeci.
The latter is a government consultant who was tasked with tweaking the planning rules applied in such a case.
Shortly after Musumeci took the brief, a new application was filed, and all the previous departments objecting to the permit somehow changed their minds and gave their go-ahead.
The last hurdle was the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CPRD), which was still mounting its objections until last July.
Yet after Musumeci asked the Planning Authority for a short suspension of the application, Frank Muscat sent a letter on behalf of the CPRD dropping all reservations.
This cleared the way for Musumeci to obtain the permit for his clients.
Musumeci, an architect and former PN mayor who switched to Labour and then became a government consultant to the government, is widely known as the go-to person for difficult permits. While this serves his personal interest, he is equally despised by both political factions.
Micallef, the owner of Aria club, is involved in a number of other business ventures facing problems.
His permit to turn his family’s once popular Tattingers disco on Saqqaja Hill in Rabat into a hotel was revoked a few weeks ago.
Another of his projects to turn the Valletta Waterpolo pitch into a lido has been abandoned for months as Micallef failed to pay his contractors.
Micallef is also the new owner of various government-owned boathouses turned lidos in Armier, where he intends to develop them into high-end summer party venues.
Illum reports that no one knows how the Lands Authority leased all these properties to Micallef and who is the person responsible.
Lands Authority Minister Silvio Schembri is refusing to explain.