The government has taken what appears to be another step towards transferring valuable public land in Birżebbuġa to a private developer to turn it into blocks of private apartments.
The Shift previously reported how a large plot of public land on the Birżebbuġa seafront was included in an application on behalf of developer Paul Attard to build several blocks of apartments and commercial premises.
The problem is that, for now, at least, Attard does not own the land.
But new information has come to light that during the last weeks, instructions from the Office of the Prime Minister were given to the Lands Authority to settle a 45-year pending issue with the private owners of part of the former LPG facility, taken away from them in 1978, for ‘public purpose’ reasons.
In a quick move, the Authority ordered a valuation of the land in question by one of its architects and decided that 45 years after the land was taken over, its owners would be paid some €360,000 in compensation to close the matter.
The government suddenly chose to proceed with the acquisition of the plot, the size of a football ground, instead of handing it back to its original owners once the LPG facility was removed and closed several years ago. There is no longer any apparent public purpose for its use.
It seems it was Enemalta and the Office of the Prime Minister that insisted on ensuring the legal title of the land was on the Lands Authority’s books.
Legally, it is only through the acquisition that the title of the land can eventually move to someone else. Experts consulted by The Shift said: “Once the Authority has the full title, it can proceed to sell the public land through a tender, with a clause of the right of first refusal.”
This means that anyone with a small parcel touching the land would be entitled to buy the whole plot sold by the government without any competition.
Enemalta’s land, which, together with that of the Lands Authority, is included in a Planning Authority application by Paul Attard, forms the largest part of the project proposed by the secretary general of the Malta Developers Association (MDA).
Another parcel is owned by private individuals – the Micallef family. Whether the family has already entered into a private arrangement with Attard on the land’s transfer or development is unclear at this stage.
The Shift asked Attard whether he possessed any part of the massive plot’s footprint, but he did not reply. However, in the Planning Authority application, he declared that he was not the owner.
The MDA’s secretary general insisted that this was just an application for the Planning Authority to define the area’s zoning, not a full development application.
The Shift revealed how through PC0022/23 submitted by Attard and his architect Stephen Vancell, a former Planning Authority official, the Authority is being asked to rezone the area, which, according to the local plan, has a height limitation of up to four storeys.
Attard’s application shows that he plans to build four residential blocks and another two commercial blocks facing the seafront in a multi-million-euro project, which, in some parts, rises to eight storeys – double the current height limitation.
Both the Lands Authority and Enemalta have so far refused to state whether they have made any deal with Attard.
Miriam Dalli, Enemalta’s minister and elected from the constituency that includes Birżebbuġa, has kept quiet, saying only that “Enemalta has no intention of selling its land”.
The minister, also responsible for the government’s ‘greening initiative’, refused to say whether it agreed with the locality’s council, which is insisting that the government should scrap Attard’s project and turn the area into a much-needed green park.
But Dalli still consented to Attard’s filing of the zoning application on land she told the media was a “valuable asset”.
Attard has struck a number of profitable deals with the government in recent years, including another public land grab in the Tal-Qortin area in Mellieħa. The arrangement was implemented through a tender that gave Attard the right of first refusal in unusual terms that led to the acquisition of the land at a price lower than current market trends.