Ombudsman launches investigation into abuse of horse stable construction permits

The Ombudsman’s office has launched an investigation into the Planning Authority’s approval of permits for horse stables to ensure rules and regulations are being followed.

The investigation, led by the Commissioner for Environment and Planning Alan Saliba, will focus on whether the stables are being used as claimed in the granted permits, how they are approved, and whether such permits are being abused.

According to a statement on Monday morning, the probe was launched on Saliba’s initiative following a discussion with Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon. It will focus on whether the Rural Policy and Design Guidance regulations introduced in 2014 are being followed.

The policy requires that outside development zone permits for such stables must only be issued following proof of horse ownership. Rampant abuse of the policy had been reported last year.

Through regulatory loopholes, landowners would be granted permits to construct such stables by faking their ownership of horses through various means.

In 2019, horse stables were also found to have been turned by their owners into inhumane residential dwellings for low-income migrant workers.

The Ombudsman’s Office statement noted how the investigation will look into whether such permits were granted concerning a genuinely registered horse and what steps the Planning Authority took following the horse’s death. The latter aspect was ostensibly raised since several dead horses were used to justify permit approval.

Additionally, the investigation will look into whether multiple permits were issued in connection with a single horse, an abusive practice which was reportedly taking place.

“A significant part of the investigation will focus on ensuring that permits are only granted to individuals who own equines, thereby preventing any misuse of the permitting system,” the office said.

The investigation will include several recommendations “that will contribute to revising and enhancing the long-established rural policy.”

In recent weeks, The Shift has reported a string of similarly “suspicious” Planning Authority applications. In place of horse stables, the years-long practice sees applications filed for the construction of sheep farms in Malta and Gozo. Many of these are suspected to be fronts for residential developments built on agricultural or outside development zone land.

                           

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