Activists and Xagħra residents have accused Planning Commission chairperson Martin Camilleri of “bending over backwards” to please business tycoon Joseph Portelli. 

Five NGOs and Xagħra local council have filed an appeal seeking to revoke a permit that will allow a Portelli-led group to build a swimming pool on Outside /Development Zone land in a valley. 

Mark Agius, a business partner of Portelli's, obtained the permit earlier this year, with the Camilleri-led PA commission voting in favour of granting it, despite a case officer recommending refusal and Portelli having started excavation work on the project months before having a permit in hand. 

The appeal will be heard by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. 

The pool, which will form part of a seven-storey apartment block, will be built in the valley linking Xagħra and Marsalforn, in Gozo. 

Portelli and his business partners applied to build the block in 2019 and made no mention of the pool, only filing an application for it in 2021. 

The pool’s permit application (PA 0759/21) drew vociferous criticism at the application stage, with objectors repeatedly pushing against the plans. 

But following some revisions by project architect Saviour Micallef, Planning Commission chair Camilleri ruled that the proposal was in the spirit of Gozo’s local plan and that he therefore had a “basis to justify” overturning a case officer’s recommendation to refuse the application. 

Objectors have now crowdfunded the money needed to file an EPRT objection against the development. 

“In a shameful spectacle of servility to big business, the Planning Commission Chairperson, Martin Camilleri, bent over backwards to please Portelli,” they said in a statrement announcing the appeal.

They accused the Camilleri-led commission of carrying out a charade, “instructing the developer to carry out insignificant changes which were then used as a pretext for approval.” 

“Martin Camilleri’s approval was in clear breach of several laws and planning policies,” they added, arguing that the project violated the prohibition of ridge edge developments within Gozo’s local plan, was within 50 metres of an Urban Conservation Area and involved parceling off ODZ land. 

“In addition to being in ODZ, Portelli’s proposed swimming pool is also, literally, inside a valley,” they said as they argued that the project would “open the floodgates” to similar projects in valleys. 

The appeal was filed by Moviment Graffitti, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Għawdix, Wirt Għawdex, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) and the Xagħra Local Council. They are being represented by architect Tara Cassar and lawyer Claire Bonello. 

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