The Planning Authority has approved a development proposal which will see what was originally a 15 square metre room that has been illegally expanded into a farmhouse since the late 1960s turned into a villa, despite the various recommendations for the application’s refusal.
The farmhouse lies in a relatively untouched Outside Development Zone valley adjacent to the University of Malta known as Wied Għollieqa, with disgraced former Building and Construction Authority chairperson Maria Schembri Grima, known to be one of Gozo construction magnate Joseph Portelli’s close associates, serving as the project’s architect.
The approved application, PA/06282/22, was filed under the name of Silvan Mizzi, Portelli’s business associate in the company Trivium Projects. It will see the excavation and construction of a villa including a basement level with a reservoir and wine cellar, along with a 29 square metre swimming pool.
Despite the development application being subject to three updates to its initial case officer report, all of which recommended it for refusal, along with a three-month suspension of the application, the project was nevertheless approved.
It is understood that the application was in fact initially refused, given requests from the Planning Commission to Schembri Grima for her “to address reasons for refusal”, although no documentation of the original decision refusing the development is available on the Planning Authority’s website.
The application made use of Section 6.2 of the 2014 Rural Policy and Design Guidance, which allows for the redevelopment of existing buildings in ODZ areas subject to conditions such as proof that the existing building was used as a permanent residence.
The case officer reports on the proposal state that “when one considers that the original structure only measured 15 square metres, it is highly unlikely that such structure was ever used as a permanent residence, prior to this being significantly extended in the recent years with no apparent permission”.
Last October, an aerial photo analysis by Newsbook showed how the original 15 square meter room built before the publication of the 1968 survey sheets was incrementally and illegally expanded to include additional rooms.
In 2012, a recently retracted Enforcement Notice (EC/133/12) was also issued for illegal developments consisting of concrete-roofed structures, limestone walls, the installation of a metal gate, and the dumping of scrap materials. The PA website claims the illegalities have been addressed.
The case officer reports highlighted further issues with the development, including that its design was “not considered in respect to the traditional rural characteristics,” and with “the proposed extensions considered excessive and substantial relative to the old vernacular building on-site”.
It also stated that “the proposal is considered objectionable from an environmental point of view particularly since it would lead to land take up and urban sprawl ODZ with adverse impacts on the character of the immediate rural scenery.”
Schembri Grima resigned from her post as Building and Construction Authority chairperson last February following a widely-reported incident in Birkirkara which saw debris falling onto a public road when dangerous demolition works she was overseeing were carried out on the site of an old telephone exchange that Portelli is turning into a block of apartments.