A decision to allow minister Ian Borg to build a swimming pool at his Rabat countryside villa has been declared illegal for a second time.
An appeals court presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti on Wednesday ruled that the Planning Authority was unjustified in having granted Borg and his wife Rachelle Borg Dingli a permit to build a pool and ancillary facilities at their home in the hamlet of Santa Katerina.
It also chastised the Environment and Planning Tribunal, which serves as the planning appeals board, for its incorrect interpretation of planning rules when it dismissed an appeal against that permit.
The court struck off the PA permit – PA867/20 – saying it was now “without effect”.
The decision will come as vindication for objector Noel Ciantar, who led opposition to Borg’s plans from the moment he first presented them in 2018 and filed the court case against the PA.
But it may come too late to have any material impact: Borg completed works on his pool in 2021, while the matter was still pending before the EPRT.
It is the second time that a court has ruled against the PA and Borg's bid for a pool, following a similar decision in 2019.
In its judgement on Wednesday, the appeals court dismissed arguments made by the EPRT about “conflicting” provisions between local plans and specific planning policies.
Local plans clearly spell out, “in bold letters”, that they take precedence over policy guidance notes, the chief justice said.
And in this case, the applicable local plan only allowed for the rehabilitation or rebuilding of existing buildings – not the addition of swimming pools. Policies even went so far as to specifically exclude ancillary rural structures such as greenhouses or abandoned structures from qualifying for development, the court noted.
Policies cited by the applicant stated that they "supersede any conflicting provisions", the court acknowledged.
But there was no doubt that such policies "could not nullify local plan policies, which require legislative/ministerial intervention to change and are no mere guidelines."
The EPRT “was not correct when it said the local plan neither permits nor excludes use of a swimming pool as an acceptable development. The policy clearly states what is permitted,” the court said, as it chastised the tribunal for having been swayed by legal arguments “not backed by the letter of the law”.
A five-year saga
Borg first applied to build the swimming pool in 2018, some years after he received PA approval to turn what was previously an abandoned ODZ building into a 400-square metre villa. The pool was to be built on a field next to the property.
The Planning Authority – which at the time fell under his ministerial portfolio - approved his swimming pool application within months.
Ciantar filed an appeal which was dismissed by the EPRT. He then took the matter to the law courts, and successfully had that permit revoked.
Undeterred, Borg filed a new permit application for the pool in December 2019. The PA approved that application seven months later. Ciantar then filed an appeal before the EPRT, which in May 2022 endorsed the PA decision, prompting Ciantar to turn to the law courts for recourse.
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