The Planning Authority has been ordered to pay over €331,000 in damages after turning down a permit for a garden centre on protected land but then allowing a supermarket to be built there once the land was sold to Charles Polidano. 

A court on Thursday found a "clear case of distinct treatment", ruling that the original landowners had been prejudiced by the PA's preferential behaviour. 

It heard how, within a year, Polidano, known as Ċaqnu, bought the land, got a supermarket permit and sold it to Lidl supermarket for three times the price he had originally paid. 

Three applications to develop a garden centre in the two-tumoli area outside the development zone on Qormi Road, Luqa were turned down in quick succession in the 1990s.

Although plans were modified to allow most of the land to be taken up by greenhouses, the authority said that any construction could not be higher than the airport perimeter fence.

Moreover, there were objections by the Civil Aviation and MIA because the plot fell within the airport’s “blue area” and could present a hazard to flying aircraft. There were also health and safety concerns in respect to visitors at the projected nursery. 

But when the dejected owners finally sold off the land, without permits, at a far lower price, the situation appeared to change and to their “great surprise” a permit for a supermarket was issued to third parties.

'Contradictory' and 'illogical'

In 1995, the family sold a parcel of the land to J.D.G Properties at Lm15,000 (€34,950) and the rest to developer Charles Polidano at Lm100,000 (€230,000) in 2007.

That same year Polidano bought the other plot from J.D.G Properties at Lm500,000, (€1.16 million) a supermarket permit was approved in March that year.

Four months later, Polidano sold the site of the current Lidl supermarket for Lm1.99 million (€4.63 million).

The original landowners filed an action for damages.

When delivering judgment the First Hall, Civil Court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, said it was “contradictory” and “illogical” that a garden centre was deemed as too commercial for the area, whereas a supermarket was acceptable.

In respect of the applicants, objections by airport authorities were taken into consideration whereas when the applicant was Polidano, the case officer reported that “…MEPA should not enter into such issues and development could be permitted if it is deemed fit on planning grounds…”

This was a “clear case of distinct treatment for no valid reason at law….to the detriment of the applicants,” observed the court.

Mr Justice Chetcuti particularly censured the reason cited by the case officer that a site large enough for a supermarket would be too expensive unless in an ODZ area. In light of all evidence, the court upheld the applicants’ claim.

Damages could only be awarded in respect of that parcel of land transferred to Polidano since the other parcel had not been sold by the applicants in their personal capacity but as a company and that company did not feature in their application. 

Basing itself on the valuation by an ex-parte architect, the Court observed that the value of the land in 2007, with permits, would have been €564,295.

Working out the difference between that value and the selling price paid to the applicants, the court awarded them €331,295 in damages. 

Lawyers Noel Camilleri and Federico Barbaro Sant assisted the applicants.

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