An attempt to turn a large tract of ODZ land into an underground extension of the PAMA Shopping Village in Mosta, circumventing development rules by building a big garden on top of it, is likely to fail unless the government makes changes to current planning rules.
PAMA owner Paul Gauci has tabled a proposal to build a sprawling green garden on a chunk of agricultural land, which also features an old marble factory proposed for demolition. The catch is that underneath the garden, Gauci wants to build a car park for 380 vehicles and two additional floors, including retail outlets.
This would transform the 14,000 square metre plot of land into more than 32,000 metres of commercial property and a garden.
But planning officials who spoke to The Shift said the land on which Gauci wants to extend his shopping centre is defined as a Strategic Open Green Gap in the local plan of the area, meaning that “it cannot be touched, and nothing can be built over or under it”.
Repackaging an unacceptable proposal
The original plans were tabled in 2019, designed by Charles Buhagiar, a former Labour MP who held various posts in the administration of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
But the new plans made public through his company’s CEO Charles Borg – the former CEO of Bank of Valletta – were designed by veteran architect Ray Demicoli.
However, the apparent attempt to circumvent planning rules by building a garden on top of significantly excavated and developed subterranean levels has not gone unnoticed.
Planning Authority officials who spoke to The Shift said this proposal is a “non-starter” as Gauci is trying to bend the rules.
“If this is somehow permitted, it means that anyone who owns ODZ land or a field can start excavating and building it as long as he puts a garden on top of it. This makes no sense, and the Planning Authority should throw this proposal out despite the usual pressure it might have to approve it”.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has already said Gauci’s plan cannot be tolerated.
“The proposal will lead to undesirable urban sprawl beyond the designated area, specifically onto an area earmarked as a Strategic Open Gap. Whilst the current proposal is limited to underground development, it is likely that this proposal will contribute to additional future pressures for further development on site and for similar proposals in ODZ areas,” ERA said.
ERA also commented on the large amount of excavated waste that the proposal, if approved, would generate – a total of 152,750 cubic metres – a problem if not reused. ERA objected to the development.
Paul Gauci, ‘supporting democracy’
One of the brothers of Birkikara’s Big Ben business family, Paul Gauci branched out of the family business creating shopping villages such as PAVI (Qormi) and PAMA (Mosta).
He also owns the Zara franchise and recently bought the concession of the Marina di Ragusa in Sicily, proposing extensive development plans for business around the marina.
He also proposed a new catamaran service linking Malta to his marina. This is still underway and running behind schedule.
Over the years, Gauci’s name also appeared on the list of donors of the Labour Party even though the family’s traditional support has been for the Nationalist Party when in government.
According to a Labour report presented to the Electoral Commission, in June 2017, the Party received a €15,000 donation from Marlene Gauci – Paul’s wife. In 2022, it was reported that Labour received another €10,000 from PAVI, owned by Gauci.
Gauci admitted he donated to the Labour Party and said he made an equivalent donation to the PN.
According to Gauci, his group believes that “a business organisation of its size should support the country’s democratic process”.