The Malta Developers Association has donned its social solidarity cap and has “categorically” insisted that its members “are not interested in the regularisation of property in Outside Development Zones”.
The statement is an apparent reaction to a call from no less than 15 NGOs on Thursday for the public to object to a highly controversial legal amendment to planning laws governing properties developed on the boundaries ODZs that is in the works.
The Shift reported on Thursday how developers who built on such ODZ boundaries are set to cumulatively rake in millions of euros if the legal amendment wiping out ODZ boundaries, and in the process regularising 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.
But, according to the MDA, its members are not interested in the amendment since “developers buy within the development zone and apply [for planning permission] according to the planning policies”.
In fact, the MDA said on Friday, its members’ concern is for the “thousands of families that cannot regularise their only property”.
“The MDA is sensitive to the needs of these families, and it will therefore be backing the legal notice and will be submitting some slight amendments to improve the said legal notice.”
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 that they were otherwise 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”.
The MDA, however, on Friday stressed that it “remains against any type of development in our countryside.
“The legal notice amendments issued for public consultation are a measure which will assist those many families that today cannot regularise a property within an ODZ area,” the MDA said, ignoring the fact that there are a substantial number of developers, not necessarily MDA members, who stand to make a windfall should the amendment be transposed into law.
Many properties that have been developed but have remained unsold will prospectively be able to be sold under normal terms and conditions and with applicable bank loans, loans that banks are currently reticent to approve because the properties in question are non-conformant as they lie partially within ODZs.
The joint statement by no less than 15 NGOs on Thursday cited a published report 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,” they said.
The NGOs also 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.”