Transport Minister Ian Borg, responsible for the Planning Authority, acquired the field he now wants to develop into a large swimming pool and outdoor dining area on pristine land in the limits of Dingli in 2014, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed.
However, instead of applying for the full development permit of the two residential units and the outdoor area in one go, as usually happens, Dr Borg first waited for the contentious permit to build his “matrimonial home”, approved in 2014, and has only now submitted a separate application to develop the field as an outside extension to his home on ODZ land.
According to his latest application, Dr Borg is arguing that due to the fact that he already has a permit for his ODZ home, this gives him the right to also develop an outdoor entertainment space, even though this is in a sensitive ODZ zone.
While in September 2014, the Transport Minister, at the time a parliamentary secretary, successfully applied to build his ODZ plot in the Santa Katerina hamlet, in the limits of Dingli, public registry documents show he had at the time already bought the field he now wants to turn into a large outdoor swimming and dining area as an extension to his house.
Searches conducted by The Sunday Times of Malta show that it was in January 2014 that the young politician signed the contract to acquire three pieces of farmland next to his house, with a total area of 680 square metres.
The acquisition of the land, at the time used for agricultural purposes, was from a 68 year old pensioner, Anthony Scicluna, residing in Santa Katerina. Dr Borg paid Mr Scicluna just €11,700, taxes included. Asked why at the time he applied for the permit for his 400m2 dwelling and left out the field he now wants to develop, the Transport Minister did not reply.
He split the application in two as it was almost impossible to approve due to its overall size in such a delicate area
However, sources close to the Planning Authority explained that Dr Borg might have used this plan – to split the application of his development in two – as his ODZ application would have been “almost impossible to approve due to its overall size in such a delicate area.”
In his original permit to build his ODZ house, Dr Borg used another man, Renald Azzopardi, to apply in his name. This raised the ire of the Ombudsman, investigating the issuance of the permit, who described Dr Borg’s “somewhat devious method to file a development application”.
The Ombudsman declared the issuance of Dr Borg’s development permit by the Planning Authority “a grave error”, where “policies were incorrectly applied”.
The Ombudsman then recommended a review of the application. However, both the Planning Authority and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, responsible for planning at the time, did not act. The Ombudsman’s recommendations were also endorsed by the Commission against Corruption, even though it found no evidence of corruption by Dr Borg.
In his latest application, submitted last May, Dr Borg applied in his own name.
An industry source said: “Even though he may have a right to do what he wants to do, thanks to the policies he is responsible for and which were substantially changed by his own government, the fact remains that he is giving the message that there are loopholes which developers, including himself, can take advantage of.”
The Sunday Times of Malta is is informed environmental NGOs have internally already raised questions on Dr Borg’s permit but have not made their position public yet.
Asked to state whether it was politically acceptable that the minister responsible for planning applied to develop a sensitive environmental area, Dr Borg did not reply.
Dr Borg’s architect, Colin Zammit from Maniera Group, is stating in his application that the proposed pool will only be developed in the same area occupied by a disused cesspit.