All construction works on Manoel Island have been suspended by the Planning Board until a final decision is taken on the Outline (MasterPlan) application, the Planning Authority said on Thursday.
The announcement came after the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal last June annulled the environment impact assessment and outline development permit for the master plan when it was found that a cultural heritage report had been drawn up by the son of one of MIDI’s directors, raising conflict of interest concerns.
The issue had been raised by environment NGO Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar.
The PA said on Thursday that any works that have already been approved have been suspended and three full development permits will be non-executable until a decision is taken on the outline application.
Moreover, the Planning Board decided to suspend a decision on the revocation of the permit for the clearing of the site including the uprooting of trees and demolition of some buildings.
"Last June, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal had annulled the Environment Impact Assessment of the outline permit and ordered the case back to the Authority at the stage when the EIA has to be resubmitted," it explained.
"The Planning Authority after having taken note of the appeal decision will review the application process afresh following the revision of the EIA from the part of ERA. The Authority has already communicated with ERA to start the review process of the EIA afresh. The Planning Authority will ensure that the process will remain transparent throughout.
Following the June decision Midi p.l.c. said it remained “fully committed to the Manoel Island project and the development of the site as contemplated in the deed of emphyteusis entered into with the Government”.
In a statement Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar said that the Planning Board on Thursday heard its request for the revocation of the permit issued to Midi plc to allow 'the clearing of site including uprooting of trees, demolishing of existing buildings whilst retaining St George's chapel and customs house'.
It based its request on the June 2020 annulment of the masterplan and the EIA report on the basis of a false declaration and conflict of interest of one of the consultants who drew up the EIA report.
"FAA’s request that was adjudicated today was based especially on the fact that the fraud committed by the consultant was carried out in conjunction with the applicant MIDI plc. The consultant recommended the demolition of a late nineteenth century heritage building (recently used as a club called Funky Monkey)," the NGO said.
Because of this fraudulent report, a cowshed used for the quarantine of cattle, which stood in the way of the Mididevelopment, was demolished despite the reservations expressed by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage.
This quarantine cowshed was located in an inconvenient place for Midi, on the site of its proposed Isolotto Square and apartment blocks 2 and 4, the NGO said.
The trees were cut down after ERA issued nature permits in April 2020 'when they already knew of the fraud' the FAA added.
"The Planning Board decided to postpone a decision but changed the permit to one which is non-executable. However, this decision is not satisfactory as all permits issued by the Planning Authority based on the annulled masterplan PA9407/17 are based on a fraud and therefore should be treated as null and void," FAA insisted. Nobody should be allowed gain from fraud.
"As regards the demolition of an historic building, it is a classic case of too little too late, as the developer has succeeded in clearing his site, and no suspension of permit can bring a heritage building back nor mature trees back to life."
Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar said it will continue with its campaign to give Manoel Island back to the people of Malta to be turned into a heritage park for the benefit of all.
Midi deny FAA fraud claim
In a reaction, developers Midi said the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) did not rule that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted to the Environment authority was fraudulent.
"The EPRT ruled that the EIA must be resubmitted in view of a conflict of interest of the author of one of the reports forming part of the EIA. In fact the EIA Coordinator has recently concluded the fresh EIA and this will be submitted to ERA later this month,"
MIDI also denied the FAA claim that the demolition of the late nineteenth century building (recently operated as Funky Monkey) was based on a fraudulent report.
"The building in question was demolished in accordance with the provisions of a full development permit and prior to the issue of the permit, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage declared that the building “does not have cultural heritage value that would warrant its preservation”, Midi said.
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