The Planning Authority has sanctioned an illegal concrete structure along the St Julian’s promenade because it reasoned there are already other commitments in the area.

In just a couple of minutes, the commission’s three members ignored objections to the proposal to sanction the illegally built room for an ATM machine and an adjacent ticket booth.

The structure is over three times the size of what should have been the maximum allowable size in the area. 

The 12-square-metre structure had been built on the strength of a development notification order but the permit was revoked following an investigation by the commissioner for environment and planning within the office of the ombudsman who recommended its revocation.

At first, the PA ignored his recommendations forcing him to send the report to parliament for action, which was eventually taken.

The original permit was filed by Neptunes Waterpolo Club president Matthew Bonello who proposed the construction of the structure overlooking the Neptunes pitch in Ċensu Tabone Street.

In his report, the ombudsman noted that such a structure is regulated by subsidiary legislation covering DNOs, which states that structures such as post boxes, ATMs, vending machines and telephone booths cannot have an area larger than one square metre.

He said the structure approved by the PA was three times the permissible size.

The planning ombudsman investigated the structure upon receipt of a complaint from a resident who argued that the structure was built through a development notification order (DNO) when it should have gone through the normal permit process.

The ombudsman concluded the PA had committed errors in its endorsement of the DNO and had “irregularly approved it”.

While the investigation was underway, work on the structure continued at a fast pace and was completed and is already being used as a tourist ticketing booth.

Bonello applied to sanction the building, which the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage objected to, given the structure’s impact on views of numerous scheduled properties across Balluta Bay.

Several residents also objected to the sanctioning, describing the structure as an “eyesore” and that it blocks the promenade.

However, the case officer concluded that the developed room could be considered favourably because of the “limited scale of the proposal and the surrounding commitments”. He also recommended the imposition of a fine of €1,277.

The commission endorsed this conclusion, with chairperson Stephania Baldacchino and members Mireille Fsadni and Lorinda Vella all saying they had nothing to add to the case officer’s report.

Reacting to the decision, the former mayor of St Julian’s, now Nationalist MP Albert Buttigieg, denounced the “construct first, sanction later mentality” which was “giving cowboys a field day”.

He expressed concern that this was going to be used as a precedent for other applications along the promenade. Criticising the case officer who justified the application because the area was committed, Buttigieg said this did not hold water.

“Using the same logic, then we can swear because many do or evade tax because a great number do. With this decision, the PA continues to lose credibility. It is high time to suggest that the committee members be held responsible,” he said. 

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