Transport Minister Ian Borg and his wife were on Tuesday given the clearance to turn an agricultural field adjacent to their house into an outside recreational area, including a swimming pool.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Ramblers Association and resident Noel Ciantar submitted written objections to the proposed development at Santa Katerina, in the limits of Rabat.

However, the Planning Authority’s Development Control Commission voted unanimously in favour, upholding the arguments of the PA’s case officer that the development is in line with policy.

None of the objecting NGOs were present at the meeting to defend their submissions.

Mr Ciantar, who had also objected to a permit given to Dr Borg in 2014 to build his dwelling on ODZ land, made a number of legal arguments to support his stand. He pointed out that the case officer invoked the wrong policy to justify the development.

Since when was the applicant given the option to choose which policies should be adopted

“As is clear from the policy adopted by the PA in 2014, it is the north west local plan that applies and not the rural policy design guidelines, which were suggested by the client’s architect when applying for the permit and which the PA case officer followed,” he said.

“Since when was the applicant given the option to choose which policies should be adopted by the PA,” Mr Ciantar asked.

He argued that since the area in question formed part and parcel of the original permit granted to the minister to build his dwelling, which Mr Ciantar claimed was done abusively, the planning watchdog could not apply one policy for his house and another for the field he wanted to develop.

As Mr Ciantar was making his objections, control commission chairwoman Elizabeth Ellul said she would ignore the previous permit (referring to the minister’s house) because “this is a closed argument” and the application being considered only concerned the field.

She declared there were many other instances where swimming pools were allowed to be built in ODZ and rural areas.

The minister’s architect, Colin Zammit, of the Maniera Group, said he had no comments to make when he was invited to reply to the objections raised. Ms Ellul then proceeded to voting with all three members, including herself, approving the application.

According to the application submitted by the minister, who is also politically responsible for the PA, the construction of the pool was “part of the already approved property in PA 2708/14”.

In 2014, when he served as parliamentary secretary, Dr Borg was involved in a controversy after his application to build his house was approved. The Ombudsman had eventually noted that the applications’ approval of a development in such a sensitive rural area was “a grave error”, adding the permit should not have been issued.

He had also recommended a review of the permit but work on the 400sq metre house continued.

The Ombudsman had pointed a finger directly at Prime Minster Joseph Muscat, at the time responsible for planning, noting he had decided not to take any action.

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