The government is actively considering blocking a recently approved planning permit for a villa, metres away from Mġarr’s Ta’ Haġrat temples, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.

The Office of the Prime Minister would not comment officially on the case when questioned about the matter. However, sources said the government was seeking legal advice on how to proceed to block the permit and perhaps compensate the owners of the land.

The development comes after the Opposition on Wednesday filed a motion urging the expropriation of the land next to the Unesco heritage site and compensation for the owners, to protect the temples.

The contested permit is for a villa development of 867 square metres on a plot inside the buffer zone surrounding the temples.

The land had been included in the development zone for Mġarr during the so-called rationalisation exercise which took place in 2006. Then, in 2009, the authority refused a permit, partly on the grounds that the villa would be too close to the temples. However, the permit was issued in September 2013 and confirmed by the planning appeals board earlier this month.

In its decision, the authority said the permit was in line with existing planning policies.

At this point, we are assessing the situation from a legal standpoint

But there was an immediate scathing reaction from environmentalists and the conservation lobby Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar collected more than 1,500 signatures against the project.

Moreover, the government also faced some friendly fire on the matter.

Writing in the L-Orizzont shortly after the permit was issued, Labour’s deputy leader for party affairs Toni Abela was very critical of the decision which he described as the “murder” of part of Malta’s cultural and historical heritage.

When presenting their motion to the press, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco and the party’s representative on the authority, Ryan Callus, levered on Dr Abela’s public pronouncements, pointing out that he too recommended that the land be expropriated. In fact, it would not be the first time that the government acted this way. In 2009 the previous administration paid a sum believed to be in the region of €140,000 to expropriate two plots of land less than 10 metres away from the megalithic remains. The authority had allowed the constructing of two-storey buildings on these plots.

However sources said expropriation was not the only option being considered by the government. “The planning authority could be directed to issue an urgent conservation order which would effectively block any work from taking place at the site. At this point, we are assessing the situation from a legal standpoint”.

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