The Planning Authority issued an enforcement notice on the Bidnija Shooting Range operated by the Malta Shooting Sport Federation some 45 years after it started operating.
The order follows years of pressure from residents who have complained about noise from the range and a lack of action by authorities.
In October, The Shift found that following tens of reports spanning decades, the Planning Authority finally decided to issue an enforcement notice, ordering the Malta Shooting Sport Federation to remove all illegalities at the site.
The notice was issued against the Federation and its President Frans Pace and the project’s architect, former Nationalist Party minister Jesmond Mugliette.
According to the enforcement notice, the range is inundated with illegalities, with buildings and stretches of land developed without any permit and financed through public funds under both Labour Party and Nationalist Party administrations.
According to the notice, the range has many deviations from the original 1978 permit, including a club room and store, boardroom, paving, and stairs, all constructed illegally due to not having the applicable permits.
The Authority listed other illegalities, including an extension of the shooting range, structures ancillary to the sports activities practised within the complex, an illegal basement used for indoor shooting practice, and a concrete car park.
Sources told The Shift that while the enforcement notice results from pressure on Prime Minister Robert Abela to make the institutions work, the action is just a “joke” and “in reality, nothing will be done, and the shooting range will continue to operate as usual.”
Research by The Shift shows that while the range continues with its full-time activity, despite the 16 October enforcement notice, the federation immediately filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) to postpone further any enforcement action required by law.
“Through this appeal – another loophole permitted in the law to protect abusers – any direct action will be put on hold until an EPRT decision is taken,” the sources explained.
The EPRT, headed by government-appointed nominees, takes at least four years to decide on a particular case. Sometimes, it can take longer, during which illegalities continue.
Government appointee and son of a former Labour minister, Simon Micallef Stafrace, is handling the case for the EPRT.
Built on an ODZ plot, taken away from private owners in the early 70s, then-Labour minister Lorry Sant had issued a building permit for a 90 square metre structure, screened by fast-growing trees, among other conditions.
However, the construction went beyond what was permitted, and the site was transformed into a fully-fledged shooting range the size of a football pitch, with various structures and amenities, all built illegally, including a car park tarmacked recently by the government.
In 2017, the government, led by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, announced the building of a new state-of-the-art shooting range at Ta’ Kandja, in the limits of Siggiewi, to relocate the range from Bidnija.
Coordinated by Chris Bonett, now a parliamentary secretary, the range’s cost increased from the original €7 million to €14 million, with Bonett personally approving multi-million-euro direct orders and variations to contractors close to the Labour Party.
Still, the new range was never passed on to the Malta Shooting Sport Federation, as promised before the 2017 general elections, and the Bidnija range remained in operation.
Meanwhile, the new Ta’ Kandja range is rarely used and has been marred with technical and infrastructure defects.