The Planning Authority has not yet decided to revoke Ian Borg’s swimming pool permit despite a court decision which said the permit given to the Planning Minister was issued according to a wrong policy.
“The authority is still studying the court sentence,” a PA spokesman told The Sunday Times of Malta, days after the court said the authority had applied the wrong policy to justify the minister’s permit.
Dingli resident Noel Ciantar had insisted that the minister could not turn a parcel of agricultural land in a rural settlement into a pool and recreational area. But the PA’s Environment and Planning Tribunal last April ignored Mr Ciantar’s argument and confirmed the original permit.
However, following a fresh challenge, this time in front of the Court of Appeal, Mr Ciantar was vindicated.
According to the court, while the PA and the tribunal used the Rural Policy and Design Guidance to issue the development permit, the applicable policy was the local plan which does not permit such a development in the area where Dr Borg lives.
Omissions can’t be put down to human error
So far, the PA has not said who will be assuming responsibility for this latest error.
The construction of Dr Borg’s matrimonial home has been a controversy from the outset, particularly since it lies in the Santa Katerina hamlet, in the limits of Rabat, an idyllic rural settlement.
In 2014, soon after winning his seat in Parliament, Dr Borg was issued with a controversial permit to turn a dilapidated farmhouse into a large home in an environmentally sensitive area.
Dr Borg had already acquired a large field adjacent to his future home at the time he had applied to construct his house, but he did not apply for the development of the swimming pool area and garden. Instead, he only submitted his second application for the pool after the PA issued the first permit.
Also, in what later was termed by an Ombudsman investigation as a clear attempt to “deceive”, Dr Borg used a third party to submit the application on his behalf, thus concealing his identity.
In a damning report issued in December 2015, the Ombudsman recommended a review of Dr Borg’s first permit after having established that “policies were incorrectly applied”.
The Ombudsman had also chastised the then Parliamentary Secretary for choosing “a somewhat devious method to file the development application”.
The report found that “Mepa (now PA) had removed the one possible reason… for refusing the proposal of a similar permit, thereby facilitating the process in the case of Dr Borg’s application”.
“The series of omissions and variations in the text of the development application (of Dr Borg) cannot be put down to human error but point to a deliberate attempt to remove the one remaining obstacle potentially blocking approval of the application.”
According to the report, which had been endorsed in toto by the Commission against Corruption, “the grave error” by the PA should have been sufficient to review the process and reassess the application.
Despite the recommendations, the PA refused to review Dr Borg’s permit and ignored the Ombudsman’s recommendation. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who at the time was responsible for the Planning Authority, also failed to act.