The group of businessmen behind one of Malta’s longest-running and most well-known nightclubs, UNO, have their hopes pinned on a forthcoming recommendation from the Planning Authority to ‘legalise’ the mostly illegal outdoor nightclub that has operated on public land for more than 30 years.
Better known as Numero Uno, the nightclub in Ta’ Qali has been operating for decades on the site of a former garden, and its original owner, the Lands Authority, never took steps to claim the land back. This is despite a significant number of illegalities and a barrage of complaints from residents, mainly from neighbouring towns, over noise pollution until the early morning hours.
Several months ago, an application was filed in the name of Edward Zammit Tabona – the CEO of the Fortina Group – asking for a total write-off of all illegalities about the operation of the privately owned nightclub on public land.
The architectural plans for “the home of Malta’s nightlife” submitted by architect Edwin Mintoff, seen by The Shift, list built structures, canopies, tents, toilets, dance platforms and bars, almost all built without permits.
The plans demonstrate how the site was transformed from a public garden in a piecemeal fashion to a point where it is no longer recognisable and without following any of the procedures laid down by law.
Meanwhile, the owners host massive weekly parties and make millions of euros in turnover. While they have continued their operations and the site has visibly evolved over the years, both PN and PL administrations have remained impotent and let the well-connected group exploit public land.
To make matters worse, the Planning Authority, which issued an enforcement order against the illegalities in 2010 in an attempt to show a reaction to complaints, did not demolish the illegal structures and has now even suspended the enforcement notice as “the owners applied for sanctioning,” as permitted by rules to accommodate irregularities when convenient.
Usual suspects behind UNO
Initially run by the same owners of the Fortina and Eden Leisure Group, UNO now involves other well-connected businessmen in the entertainment business, who, during the past years, were paid millions in sponsorships from the Malta Tourism Authority to turn the island into another Ibiza.
According to the Planning Authority, the company in possession of the large public land is Odel Ltd, established in 1976. It has since changed hands several times as more and more party organisers sought to get a slice of the action.
Hidden behind a number of companies, the shareholders today are Edward Zammit Tabona and his sister Francesca Manduca of Fortina, Kevin Decesare and his two sons Kevin Jr. and Shaun, and Trevor Camilleri, Nicolas Spiteri and Gerald Debono of 356 Entertainment Group fame.
The latter have taken over Malta’s night entertainment industry, with their close connections to government and ministers and lucrative sponsorships from public funds.
In the only objection reaching the Planning Authority during the representation period, NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa said that “after years of benefiting from the unregulated commercial use of this site, the applicant must not be awarded further through the subsequent sanctioning of this illegal commercial development without full regard for the applicable plans and policies pertaining to the site.”
The PA is still to issue its final recommendation.