Developers who built on Outside Development Zone boundaries are set to cumulatively rake in millions of euros if a Planning Authority legal amendment that will wipe out ODZ boundaries and regularise more illegal development sees the light of day.
With the PA’s proposed amendments to the 2016 Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations, a scheme that was meant to have lasted just two years but which was instead extended indefinitely, developers who built on sites “partially” in ODZ will now also be able to pay a fine to legalise their irregularities.
While the original 2016 regularisation scheme only accepted sites within development boundaries, the new scheme refers to sites encroaching on ODZ and will also include illegal development which goes against policies.
If the legal amendment is transposed into law, developers of such sites will be set to rake in millions upon millions of euros since they would be able to far more easily sell their properties on the market since banks would finally be in a position to finance loan agreements they otherwise were largely unable to agree to because the properties were not regularised.
The PA itself, in fact, states that the widening of the scheme’s scope is intended to accommodate “certain property owners” who “are not able to place on the market, or acquire a bank loan for their property, due to an irregularity which is non-sanctionable, and took place before 2016”.
A joint statement by no less than 15 NGOs on Thursday lambasted the Prime Minister over the proposed legal amendment.
“What is even more shameful is that the Labour Party, headed by former PA lawyer and current Prime Minister Robert Abela, had promised stricter controls on ODZ development during this year’s general election,” they said.
“Should this amendment be approved, the scheme will do the exact opposite and allow developers who have repeatedly ignored ODZ boundaries to get legal approval for the daylight robbery of non-developed spaces.”
They quoted a report carried in The Times of Malta that found how more than 19,500 regularisation applications had been filed since the original scheme was launched in 2016.
“With this amendment, we are set to see legal approval for thousands of additional illegal developments. Our ODZ boundaries must be protected, and we insist that this amendment must not be allowed to go through.”
The NGOs deemed the mere 14-day public consultation period a ‘ridiculous sham’ and they urged the public to submit their objections by next Monday’s [21 November] closing.
“Policies meant to prevent such development from being allowed will now be overruled by developers seeking to regularise their illegal developments in exchange for a paltry fine,” the NGOs added.
They highlight how the new ODZ scheme even allows for properties served with enforcement notices predating 2016, as long as the developer in question has a pre-2016 permit in hand. Making matters worse still, as opposed to other planning applications, regularisation requests are not published, the public cannot send its objections during a representation period, and the decisions of the Planning Commission on these applications cannot be appealed.
“Rather than closing down the 2016 regularisation scheme as was originally promised, the government has instead decided to further widen its already contested scope,” the NGOs said.
“While its lenient readings of its own policies and its failure to enforce rules have already weakened ODZ boundaries over the years, the PA is now going to fuel more ODZ development if the amendment becomes law.
“While it’s ridiculous that we even have to say this out loud, we must point out that the PA’s function isn’t to enable business in the property market but to commit to its planning policies and ensure developers fall in line with policies meant to safeguard the environment.”
The statement was signed by: ACT Malta, Azzjoni: Tuna Artna Lura, BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Għaqda għall-Ġustizzja, Ugwaljanza u Paċi, Għawdix, Malta Youth in Agriculture, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust – FEE Malta, Ramblers’ Association Malta, Rota, The Archaeological Society Malta, and Wirt Għawdex.
Members of the public can send their representations to: firstname.lastname@example.org