Prime minister mum on reform to halt construction works under appeal

Prime Minister Robert Abela has refused to answer questions from The Shift on a commitment made in his Worker’s Day speech in May to address the issue of construction and excavation works continuing while under court appeal or being heard by the Environmental and Planning Review Tribunal.

During his May Day speech, Abela said, “Now is the time for major reforms,” asking rhetorically whether it “makes sense that planning laws allow developments to continue when the permit for that development is still being contested at the tribunal or courts”. He called for “discussions”.

Despite Abela’s pledge, questions sent by The Shift to the Office of the Prime Minister asking whether discussions with industry stakeholders had commenced and for more details on how the government plans to resolve the issue were left unanswered.

In comments to The Shift, Kamra Tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) President Andre Pizzuto said that KTP believes “that while under appeal, permits should not be executable,” noting how, on the other hand, “an appeals process shouldn’t drag on for years and years.”

He said, “Currently, there are provisions allowing appellants to ask for a suspension of the permit. However, this comes down to the tribunal’s discretion”.

“The system needs to be just for both the appellant and the developer,” he said, claiming that while the current system favours developers if works were halted for the duration of protracted appeals, which last years, the system would similarly be unbalanced.

NGOs such as Moviment Graffitti have maintained that the current system allows for buildings to be completed or substantially built while the appeal is ongoing, prejudicating the process.

Last May, Graffitti’s Andre Callus said the government-appointed tribunal is “a farce” and that “development should absolutely be suspended until the tribunal comes to a decision.”

Pizzuto said the EPRT does not have capacity to face the volume of appeals levelled against developments, with the many widely reported examples of such developments proceeding despite appeals, calling into question the usefulness of such a tribunal in its current form.

Last week, The Shift reported how works on a Xemxija residential complex slated for the former Mistra Village site have been going on in full swing. This is despite an ongoing appeal in front of the EPRT and a Court of Appeals ruling that an earlier EPRT verdict against appellants was unjust.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg completed the construction of a pool in an outside development zone at his residence in Santa Katerina, Rabat, while the permit for the pool was under appeal. Despite the appeals process confirming the pool as illegal, no action has been taken.

The development of a 10-storey residential complex at the former Halland Hotel in Ibraġġ, owned by Yorgen Fenech, also continues despite an ongoing EPRT appeal and concerns that the project will exploit surrounding ODZ land.

A much larger pool planned in Marsalforn, Gozo, on ODZ land by developer Joseph Portelli last year was allowed to be built despite an appeal launched by five NGOs and the Marsalforn local council.

Apart from private developers and contractors, the government itself has taken advantage of what Abela termed “planning laws that might have never made sense.”

A road widening in Luqa carried out in 2021 by Infrastructure Malta, months ahead of Transport Malta authorisation, resulted in the eradication of privately owned farmland, despite an open appeal case ongoing throughout the process.

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Francis Said
Francis Said
21 days ago

As if this government will go against the will of the developers.
Money does not grow on trees but miraculously sprout out from construction. Who cares about the environment and residents’ health issues and gross inconvenience.

21 days ago

He will never do it. He is held by the curlies by the developer dictatorship of Malta.

Francis Said
Francis Said
21 days ago

Unfortunately the PM is too closely connected with the construction industry. Hence sits on the fence and clamps up or denigrates the PN.
When will the PL and it’s elected members of Parliament are going to understand that when in government their duty is to govern for the benefit of our Country. No colours should blind good governance.

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