Updated 12.30pm with PA hearing outcome

The Planning Authority is preparing to approve a controversial application by a Gozitan developer to turn a small, dilapidated room in the idyllic outskirts of Qala into a residence on more than five times the footprint.

The plans, in an area known as Tal-Muxi, had been recommended for refusal by the planning directorate and faced objections from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Nature Trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Environment and Resources Authority.

But in a hearing on Tuesday, the three-person Planning Commission board said it was "very concerned" that the plans had been recommended for refusal and accused the directorate of having failed to "analyse well the submissions". 

It requested the case officer to draw up conditions for a permit, which is now expected to be approved in a hearing in August. 

Mark Agius, a developer known as Ta’ Dirjanu, is a partner of Gozo’s foremost developer Joseph Portelli of Mercury Towers fame.

He wants to restore a 31-square metre room in the middle of some fields and turn it into a 200-square metre residence complete with a swimming pool and other facilities. The site lies outside the development zone in a rural location mostly used for farming.

“It is difficult to believe how someone can even think of turning this area into a residence. It’s a non-starter and we hope that the Planning Authority, which is resisting this application, sticks to its guns and does not allow any pressure to give in,” a member of Din l-Art Ħelwa told Times of Malta.

Insisting on a formal objection, the ERA said the site is in a very sensitive rural location of high scenic value which should remain untouched.

Site is in a very sensitive rural location of high scenic value which should remain untouched

“There are significant environmental concerns regarding the proposal in view of the replacement of an existing traditional rural structure with a new modern building with the resultant visual impacts that significantly intrude into the pleasant panoramic view,” the ERA said.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage also shot down the proposal as breaching planning rules.

Recommending a refusal, the planning directorate also expressed doubts over the applicant’s insistence that the building was used for residential purposes many years ago.

“Although architect Alexander Bigeni has submitted documentation linking residential use to this property in 1921, aerial photos indicate that the building has been without a roof since at least 1978, hence the residential use is not considered as ‘legally established’.

In the hearing on Tuesday, the Planning Commission board said the submissions showed the residential status of the property - despite the directorate's doubts - and that the existing building would be rehabilitated, addressing the concerns of the SCH. 

It said the project architect should add 60 indigenous trees around the site. 

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