Updated at 11.45am with FAA statement
An illegal concrete batching plant was assembled in Gozo over the past weeks and the Planning Authority only moved to stop the abuse this week after being informed about it by the Times of Malta.
The Times of Malta has been following the assembly of the large imported batching plant in a Kerċem quarry for the past eight weeks.
Heavy plant and equipment were carried through various Gozitan villages on trucks belonging to construction magnate Joseph Portelli, of J. Portelli Projects.
They were taken to an active soft-stone quarry known as Ta’ Qasam San Pawl. The facility, which is now completed and can produce concrete, was assembled by construction workers and engineers over the past weeks on a sizeable site within the quarry even though no permits have been issued yet.
Industry sources commented that although it was common knowledge in Gozo that the illegal batching plant was being assembled, the authorities seemed to have closed both eyes and did not intervene.
When the Times of Malta informed the Planning Authority about the matter, a spokesman said the planning watchdog only got wind of what was going on in Kerċem when approached by this newspaper.
“The authority had not received any complaints related to the case prior to your report,” the spokesman said.
“Following your report, officials from the PA’s compliance and enforcement directorate carried out a site inspection and confirmed that a batching plant was being constructed within the quarry without a permit,” he acknowledged.
The spokesman said the directorate issued both verbal and written instructions for all works to cease with immediate effect and would monitor the site to ensure no further works were carried out.
The industry sources noted that, so far, the planning watchdog had done nothing to ensure that the batching plant was either dismantled or sealed.
The PA spokesman said “a planning application has been submitted attempting to sanction the illegal plant and is at pre-validation stage”.
No details were given regarding the identity of the applicant and no information on the plant appeared on the PA’s public server at the time of writing.
The investigations carried out by the Times of Malta established that the government-owned Kerċem quarry was leased to Carmel Cauchi, known as ‘Tal-Gawwi’ many years ago.
The quarry itself is already subject to various illegalities that remain even if the planning authority had issued an enforcement order in 1998.
Twenty-one years ago, the owners were ordered to stop extending the perimeter of the quarry illegally and not to extract soft stone from public land that did not form part of the quarry.
However, despite direct action by the regulator, the quarry kept expanding illegally over the years and soft stone continued to be extracted illegally and sold to be used on various construction projects.
In 2008, the quarry developers had applied through former Labour MP Carmel Borg to sanction the illegalities. Eleven years later, the PA has still to decide on the case.
'No surprise' - FAA
Environmental heritage NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar said it was not surprised about the batching plant revelations.
The PA's claims that it had not received any complaints about the case was a "crushing indictment of the Planning Authority's lack of commitment to reverse abuse in the interests of Gozo's public health, heritage and the future of Gozo's tourism", the NGO said.
The NGO said that abuses would continue until governments showed real determination to stamp out abuse "rather than encourage it" and suggested the introduction of a 'three strikes' system which would automatically disqualify repeat offenders from applying for permits.