The Planning Authority (PA) has reissued a permit for upgrading works on a Baħrija farmhouse after it passed an environmental test, with the new developer made to pay a €10,000 contribution towards the environment fund for a water management project.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) gave its green light to the project that had been the centre of controversy before the European Parliament elections in June 2009 because of a permit granted to former PN general council president, Victor Scerri, and his wife for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated farmhouse in Wied tal-Marċa.

The controversy subsequently led to Scerri’s resignation. He had insisted he wanted to defend his case as a private citizen without dragging the party into the controversy.

The property has since been sold to a third party who went ahead with the planning application for identical alternations proposed by the previous owners, using the services of the same architect, Robert Musumeci.

The decision, originally issued in 2002, had raised eyebrows as the development was situated in a sensitive ecological area outside the development zone.

A month after the controversy erupted, the planning watchdog revoked a permit to extend the farmhouse on grounds that the set procedure had not been followed when the application was being processed. An appeal was lodged but the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) confirmed the revocation decision.

The decision by the EPRT was also confirmed by the Appeals Court in October 2013, which sent the application back to the PA to reconsider following further assessment by the former Environment Protection Directorate.

The controversy had taken a new twist in March 2010, when the Ramblers’ Association launched legal proceedings against the PA, Scerri and his wife with Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon ruling, in 2019, that no illegalities had been committed on the land in question.

In its review, the directorate noted that the proposal involved the construction of new extensions to the approved dwelling at ground and first floor levels, increasing the building’s footprint from 95 to 138 square metres and the total floor area from 150 to 200 square metres, both in line with planning policies.

In order to compensate for the loss of habitat of the vulnerable population of Maltese freshwater crab, the ERA requested a €10,000 guarantee towards the restoration of the riparian habitat along the valley. As a result, the Planning Directorate recently green-lighted the project and reissued the permit.

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