Civil Society organisation Repubblika has asked the Planning Authority to refrain from publishing two approved permits related to a massive residential project in Qala spearheaded by developer Joseph Portelli.
 
The two permits for sanctioning and altering two of the blocks in the sprawling development were approved on January 14, one day after Times of Malta revealed that the applicants had falsely declared sole ownership in the applications. 

False declaration of ownership is an offence under criminal and, separately, planning law. It may lead to requests for revocation of permits.

Land Registry records show that the land is leased to a company called Carravan Company Limited, whose shareholders or owners are neither the individual applicants who declared sole ownership nor the developer.

Legal sources said that a permit only enters into effect when it is published, and that the Planning Authority can desist from publishing it or even withdraw it within a month of publication. The permits are due to be published on Wednesday.

The developer has suggested that the applicants are co-owners but has declined to provide documents substantiating that claim, citing privacy considerations and adding that that “the applicant or owner listed in the application has no material bearing in the determination of the application".

A 179-unit project, but no EIA

The two blocks are part of larger project consisting of 179 flats and extensive grounds that sprawl over an area larger than three football grounds. 

Development applications for the project have been filed in stages over the past two years, in four blocks that fit together to make the larger project. Three of the blocks have already been granted a permit, while the application for the fourth block is currently being processed. 

The gross floor area of all the blocks of flats that form part of the overall development – including the block or part still being processed – exceeds the threshold of 30,000 square metres that would lead to an Environment Impact Assessment screening. 

Tara Cassar, advisory architect with NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa, said that if all the four blocks had been put in one application, the Environment and Resources Authority would have assessed it to decide on EIA screening. EIA screening would determine whether an EIA would be needed.   
 
In applications for two of the blocks, the applicants declared that they are private individuals and sole owners. They made that claim in the initial applications, as well as in the latest two applications to be processed, in which they applied to sanction excavation for the underground garages and add another seven flats to each block. The Planning Commission approved the proposed changes on January 14. 

Qala council seeks legal advice

In their letter to the PA, Repubblika referred to Times of Malta’s investigations and called on the Planning Authority “to desist from publishing the permits pending an independent review of the applications concerned.” 

Separately, Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg said that the council had entrusted planning lawyer Claire Bonello to decide on appropriate moves on the development at Ta’ Għar Boffa, as the area is known. Mr Buttigieg declined to comment further, saying he did not want to prejudice any eventual council action.

The two permits that were approved by the PA on January 14 had originally been placed on the Planning Commission agenda for January 28, but were suddenly “rescheduled” to an earlier meeting held just one day after Times of Malta reported on them.

Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia would not be drawn into whether he would be launching an investigation into the PA, merely saying that his job is to ensure that the Planning Authority executes its functions effectively. 

Information from sources suggests that the PA is carrying out an internal audit of applications connected to this project.

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