The planning authority was not willing to allow any illegalities, its chairman, Austin Walker, warned yesterday before the board started to consider 17 applications for the sanctioning of extensions to boathouses built without a permit in Dwejra.

In fact, one after the other, 13 of the applications were turned down and four were put off, much to the delight of environmental non-governmental organisations that had called for their refusal.

In his introduction to the marathon hearing, Mr Walker said any boathouse built before or altered after 1965 required sanctioning and the benchmark used were aerial photos taken in 1957 and site surveys carried out in 1968.

Following this "line of thought", the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board voted to refuse even those applications its own Planning Directorate had recommended for approval.

In one of the cases, a sanction granted in 2008 was reversed on grounds that the owner of the property had not paid the fees imposed at the time.

In another case, where the structure had already been sanctioned, the owner asked for the amount he had to pay in planning gain to be reconsidered but the request was rejected.

One of the cases that were put off was for a change of use from a boathouse to a dive shop that would store and rent diving equipment. The board appointed an architect to carry out an on-site inspection before the application could be considered.

The Planning Directorate was recommending refusal of this application because it had found an illegal development on site.

But the owners contended that the development they carried out was needed because their boathouse was in danger of collapsing.

They said the clay on which the foundations were resting had given way following excavations next door for an interpretation centre, which had been given the go ahead by the authority itself.

The board appointed an architect to inspect the work and a decision would be made at a later date.

In the other three cases that were postponed, the board gave owners time to remove certain illegal structures before it decided on the applications.

The last application of the 17, to sanction minor alterations and a boundary wall, was the one that led to the biggest uproar when it was turned down.

The architect representing the owner complained that the authority had approved a whole boathouse next door in 2008 and accused the board of using two weights and two measures.

Mr Walker insisted that, while the planning authority was always open to criticism, one had to bear in mind that what was good in 2008 might not be so nowadays. If the board were to adopt such an attitude it would be reduced to a "rubber-stamp board".

Nature Trust Malta, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, the Ramblers Association, BirdLife Malta, the Gaia Foundation, Din l-Art Ħelwa and Friends of the Earth welcomed the decision to refuse most of the applications.

Din l-Art Ħelwa said it hoped the decisions would be followed up with enforcement action and that the remaining four applications would also be refused.

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