A Rabat resident has filed a case before the Court of Appeal against a decision by the Planning Authority to grant its own minister a planning permit to transform a field adjacent to his rural residence into an outside recreational area including a swimming pool.

Noel Ciantar, who has been opposing Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg’s swimming pool plans for years, has filed his latest objection,  appealing a decision made last month by the Environment and Planning Tribunal.

In his application, Mr Ciantar is challenging the tribunal’s decision on various grounds, particularly on the lack of a fair hearing, as the tribunal denied Mr Ciantar’s ‘right’ to produce witnesses to corroborate his objections, including the Office of the Ombudsman that had described the original PA decision regarding Dr Borg’s rural dwelling as “a grave error”.

In his application, Mr Ciantar is also arguing that the court should strike down the minister’s permit on the basis that it goes against existing policies and is based on an “erroneous” original permit of a development of an ODZ residence which should never have been issued.

Back to the drawing board

Last month, the Environment and Planning Tribunal partially upheld an appeal filed by Mr Ciantar and withdrew the minister’s permit until Dr Borg and his wife present new plans reducing the size of his swimming pool, as it was not according to policy.

The tribunal had agreed with Mr Ciantar that, although according to policy no developments bigger than 75 square metres were permissible, the minister was given a permit to develop a larger area.

The tribunal had said the concession was “a subjective decision made by PA officers even though the policy did not allow such a concession”.

Minister Borg would like to build a pool and outdoor area on ODZ land next to his house. Photo: Chris Sant FournierMinister Borg would like to build a pool and outdoor area on ODZ land next to his house. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

While turning down all the other objections filed by Mr Ciantar, the tribunal had ordered the temporary withdrawal of the minister’s permit until fresh plans by his architect conforming to the policy were presented to the PA.

Latest permit will increase substantially the value of ODZ property

The minister has already filed the amended plans but it is not yet known whether the PA has issued a new permit.

How the plans have developed over the years

Dr Borg’s development in a sensitive rural area in the hamlet of Santa Katerina, limits of Rabat, has been in the news from its inception.

In 2014, soon after gaining his seat in Parliament, Dr Borg was given a PA permit to turn a dilapidated ODZ dwelling into a 400-metre matrimonial residence.

Following an investigation by the Ombudsman and the Commission Against Corruption, the Ombudsman had recommended a review of the permit, describing the PA’s green light as “a grave error” and that the permit should not have been issued. At the same time, no proof of corruption was found.

Despite the recommendation, Dr Borg still continued with his development after the Prime Minister, at the time responsible for the Planning Authority, ignored the recommendation.

In the latest development, Dr Borg was given a permit, through a fresh application, to transform an agricultural field he had acquired together with the dilapidated house into an outside dining area and a swimming pool as an extension to his residence.

The issue on this latest permit, which will increase substantially the value of his ODZ property, was based on a policy allowing such extensions to dwellings which were already built in rural areas.

The field, which has idyllic, unobstructed views of the valley, was acquired by Dr Borg from a farmer for just €12,000.

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