Updated 11.10am with FAA statement

Development applications will only be available for public scrutiny once they are published in the Government Gazette and a notice is affixed on site, a Planning Authority spokesman has confirmed.

This clarification was made in the wake of a controversy that erupted a few days ago when online access to certain pending applications was closed. Instead, when users entered the application number to enquire about it, a notification came up saying ‘No complete application’ was found. 

This restriction came under criticism from a number of environmental non-government organisations who perceived such a move as breaching transparency and meant to discourage the public from filing submissions. 

A proposal for the construction of a batching plant in Siġġiewi, and the highly-controversial American University Campus project in Żonqor, Marsascala, are among the applications which ‘disappeared’ following the introduction of this policy. 

The Planning Authority also came under criticism as no public announcement was made on this restriction, fuelling accusations that these were introduced by stealth. 

Replying to questions sent by the Times of Malta, an authority spokesman insisted that this procedure had been in place for a number of years, but had never been enforced. 

He noted that pending applications would only become available for public scrutiny once they were “complete”. This stage is reached when it is fully filled, all required documentation submitted and payments made in line with a specific provision of Legal Notice 162 of 2016, he said. 

PA fails to notify the public about changes

According to this provision, the screening process – the term used to describe the procedure whereby an application is preliminary assessed by the PA – shall be finalised within eight weeks from its submission in full by the applicant, and the architect shall be informed of the respective date.   

It is only at this point that the authority is legally bound to make public the application in the Government Gazette and by affixing a notice at the development site, the spokesman said. 

“This is the stage when an application should be made available to the public, including on eApps [the PA’s portal for development applications] for public viewing,” he added.   

In view of this, the authority has “updated” its information technology systems to ensure it is properly following its legal obligations, the spokesman remarked. 

However, no reply was given when asked why the PA had failed to notify the public about these changes and the date from which the new procedure had come into force. 

Moreover, the PA declined to give a reaction when asked about criticism that it was giving an edge to developers, or whether the public consultation period would be extended to compensate for the fact that application would be uploaded online at a later stage.   

Eroding the public's rights - FAA

NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar said it roundly condemned what it called the "ongoing erosion of residents’ rights" by the Planning Authority, which is now delaying the publication of information on applications, giving objectors less time to inform themselves of cases and prepare objections.

Far from facilitating the public’s access to information and participation in decision-making, the authorities stopped publishing planning applications in mainstream media, relegating it to the Government Gazette, which cannot be easily purchased like a newspaper, nor it is easy to access online, FAA said. 


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