Updated April 19

A gate that blocks off access to a scenic area in Baħrija is set to remain in place until the Planning Authority decides whether to sanction it.

The move comes less than a month after the PA warned that “action would be taken” if the barrier to Blata tal-Melħ, which was erected without a permit, was not removed.

The person behind the illegal structure has now applied to sanction it.

“Please note that the contravener submitted an application to sanction the installation of the gate. The enforcement directorate will await the outcome of the application,” a spokesperson said.

Should the PA decide to throw the application out, an enforcement notice will be issued and eventually lead to the removal of the gate.

A PA spokesperson noted that the issue of public access fell under the Lands Authority remit until the sanctioning application was decided.

Ramblers Malta, an NGO that represents hikers with an interest in conservation of the rural and natural environment, said it would “make a mockery of the planning process” if the gate remains in place.

The NGO’s president, Ingram Bondin, has vowed to “contest the application in every possible legal forum” and said the issue of this single barrier could have wider implications.

“In [contesting the application], it will be testing the legal precedent it has discovered, namely that public use of a country lane over a period of time establishes a right of transit across the lane,” he said.

According to the NGO, a case dating back to 1941, and cited in a recent court case, set a legal precedent that does not allow the owner of a private road open to public use to obstruct access to it.

Bondin also argued that the sanctioning application is the equivalent of the contravener’s admission that the gate was installed illegally.

Times of Malta has approached the owner of the gate for comment.

The sanctioning process essentially allows people who have built illegal structures to apply to the PA to obtain a permit for the structures while paying a fee.

In practical terms, sanctioning is only allowed when the illegal development would have been approved had an application been submitted prior to the start of the works.

Correction April 19: A previous version of this article made reference to the 2016 regularisation scheme, which is distinct from PA sanctioning.

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