Moviment Graffitti and the Qala Local Council have kicked off legal proceedings with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal to revoke a permit to construct a 63-apartment block in Ta’ Kassja.

The development of this block would be the last phase of a residential project of more than 160 apartments covering a swath of land larger than three football grounds.

The land taken up by the development also protrudes significantly beyond the development zone boundaries, Graffitti said in a statement on Monday, adding that the legal action was "fully supported" by Mayor Paul Buttigieg.

Last May, the local council and Din l-Art Ħelwa took legal action to try revoke two permits granted for this large development spearheaded by property developer Joseph Portelli.

These two permits form part of a cluster of six development applications which, in turn, pertain to a larger project that has been split into four parts.

The council and the heritage NGO argued that the developers had presented misleading information in the application.

On Monday, Graffitti said that the decision to grant the permit for part of the project - a 63-apartment block - is being appealed on the grounds that it forms part of a much larger project that was split up into four different stages over a two-year period.

"This was done to fool people into thinking that these were separate, unrelated development applications filed under four different applicant names - all of which are connected to Joseph Portelli, including his daughter Chloe Portelli.

"This piecemeal approach enabled J Portelli Projects, the brains behind the massive residential project, to circumvent and evade the scrutiny that a project of such dimensions requires to assess its cumulative impact."

Contradictory declarations

In its statement, Graffitti also referred to the "contradictory declarations" by the applicants about land ownership.

A spokesperson for the group explained that this "deception" led to the project being given the green light.

"The fact that the development, of which around 100 apartments have already been built, was presented in different stages also paved the way for the gradual proliferation of the development onto ODZ land.

"This reveals the loopholes that exist in our planning policies and how they are shamelessly abused to serve the interests of some individuals, with great repercussions on our environment and communities."

The land is one of several in Gozo that was registered on behalf of a medieval foundation, quoting notarial deeds that date back to the 17th century. Families are being threatened with eviction from their homes unless they fork out substantial amounts of money, the NGO added.

Graffitti said that calls for an investigation into this "Gozo landgrab saga" have fallen on deaf ears.

The legal expenses related to the EPRT appeal will be covered by public donations, while the Qala Local Council will also be covering part of the expenses.

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