Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Lydia have had a sudden change of heart about developing a Xewkija farmhouse they own into a guesthouse and have officially withdrawn the development application.
The Abelas’ architect for the now-shelved project, Joe Cassar, has informed the Planning Authority that a development permit to convert the property into a seven double-bedroom tourist accommodation with an underground pool and spa will no longer be sought.
The application’s withdrawal comes after The Shift paid a visit to the site and discovered that construction work was already underway even though the plans were still being assessed for approval by the Planning Authority.
Making matters worse still, the notice on the site even quoted a permit application (PA01188/23) that had not yet been approved to justify the ongoing construction works. It also failed to indicate the work’s commencement date.
The Shift revealed how work on the site – while the permit was still pending approval and before it was withdrawn – was in full swing.
It was being carried out by Xewkija contractor Vella Brothers Ready-Mix Ltd, known as Tal-Malla, which has been receiving millions of euros in direct orders in recent years. One such direct order was for the construction of a Gozo Museum, which has been ongoing for years with no end in sight.
Office of the Prime Minister spokesperson Edward Montebello, in a message sent to The Shift on a Sunday morning, the day of publication, rejected reports that the Prime Minister was having illegal work carried out at his property, calling the story “an outright lie” despite evidence published.
It was followed by an attack on The Shift on the Labour Party’s propaganda outlet, ONE.
He did not substantiate his claims when asked to indicate the permit he was referring to and to explain how the Prime Minister publicly displayed the wrong application to cover the ongoing works.
The Planning Authority has also bent over backwards to try to justify the Prime Minister’s irregular actions.
The Planning Authority did not reply to questions about how it knew that no illegal work had taken place on the site or to specify which permit the Planning Authority was referring to.
An old and expired permit?
Robert and Lydia Abela have owned the Xewkija farmhouse for years.
In 2012, they applied and were given a Planning Authority permit (1220/12) to restore the old farmhouse, carry out internal alterations and transform it into a four-bedroom residence with a large pool in the backyard.
No such work was done.
In March 2018, the Abelas applied for a permit renewal (PA8827/17) since the original had expired.
But work had not commenced until a few weeks ago. No commencement date was published on the Planning Authority website and the commencement date on the obligatory public display was left void.
According to the rules, the 2018 permit expired in March 2023, by which time the work should have been completed.
After acquiring public funds from the government’s Irrestawra Darek Scheme in 2021, they obtained a permit to restore the property’s façade and to change the apertures. Once again, a commencement date was not posted on the Planning Authority website.
In a further development earlier this year, the Abelas applied to change the original plans to develop the property into a seven double-bedroom residence. As reported by The Shift, this indicated the Prime Minister was aiming to use a residential permit, with lower fees, to turn the residence into a small boutique hotel.
Soon after The Shift’s report, the Prime Minister and his wife changed the plans once again and instead marked the development application as a guesthouse.
The latter application has now been withdrawn after they changed their minds once again.
It is not yet clear if the Prime Minister now intends to continue to develop his Xewkija abode as a residence and under which permit or application he will continue to do so.
Abela is meanwhile also preparing to begin a major development in Zejtun, where he acquired a two-tumolo farmhouse in an Outside Development Zone for a declared price of just €600,000.
He acquired the farmhouse just five days after the Planning Authority approved the sanctioning of a raft of illegalities on the site. The Abelas were the Planning Authority’s legal advisors at the time and were being paid around €17,000 a month for their services.