Residents of Mqabba and other neighbouring villages are opposing a recommendation by the Planning Authority to allow contractor Carmelo Penza to transfer his old concrete and tarmac batching plants from Hal Far’s industrial estate to a former quarry in Mqabba, surrounded by agricultural land and residential property.
The transfer has sparked even more controversy as the public industrial land used by Penza in Hal Far will be turned into storage facilities and leased to third parties, violating the rules and benefiting the businessman.
To create space for his latest project on public land in Hal Far, Carmelo Penza, through BIP Ltd, controlled by his daughters, Sandra Axiak and Francesca Penza, acquired a disused soft stone quarry in Mqabba and applied to turn it into an industrial batching plant after backfilling it with construction material.
INDISMalta, the government agency responsible for industrial parks and controlled by Minister Silvio Schembri, has already approved Penza’s project in Hal Far on land supposedly used for manufacturing.
No objections have been filed against the proposal, not even by the Labour-led Mqabba local council.
The Planning Authority is now recommending to “grant permission” for re-locating the old concrete and tarmac plants, insisting that old quarries in Mqabba are ideal for such heavy plant operations.
This has led to objections by local Nationalist Party MP Toni Bezzina, who said on social media that he would oppose this permission as Mqabba cannot become the dumping ground of such polluting plants.
Tarmac and concrete bathing plants are known to be among the most polluting industrial processes and are typically kept as far away as possible from residential areas.
Also, they create other environmental hazards, including side effects of using aggregate, typically crushed on site, and the use of dangerous chemicals.
Still, the Environment and Resources Authority found no objection to the move proposed by Penza.
Of relocations and shady deals
Penza is a road contractor who built the Labour Party headquarters in the early 90s.
He has illegally operated tarmac and concrete batching plants in Hal Far since 1998.
During Alfred Sant’s short stint as Labour prime minister, a company owned by Penza was allocated a large tract of industrial land in Hal Far industrial estate reserved for manufacturing.
Instead of using the site for its intended purpose as a manufacturing facility, the site was turned into a massive tarmac and concrete plant without any planning permits or authorisations from INDIS Malta, which at the time was known as the Malta Development Corporation.
The plant has continued to operate since then, also supplying material for large government projects for years despite Planning Authority enforcement orders issued in 1998 and later in 2015, which were ignored.
After Labour changed planning rules in 2015, Penza applied to sanction the illegal plant, which had been operational for almost 20 years.
In 2020, the Planning Authority approved the permit and sanctioned the entire operation.
Taking matters further still, in 2021, Penza filed a new development application through a simple Development Notification Order (DNO) to remove the now-sanctioned plant and turn the site into a warehousing complex to be leased to third parties.
INDIS has never explained why it approved Penza’s plan, which violates several of its policies. However, this is not the first time INDIS has allowed industrial zones to be used for such purposes.