The Planning Authority has voted to approve an application to build a mega-block of apartments next to the idyllic Sannat cliffs, which triggered an uproar among objectors who gathered to speak out against the development.
The commission has voted to approve PA/02087/21, an application by Mark Agius to build 73 flats and 60 garages in Sannat.
However, activists have highlighted how the application is one of three in a cluster in developer Joseph Portelli’s portfolio that will ultimately create 125 apartments just 300 metres from the cliff edge.
All three members of the board, Stephania Baldacchino, Mirielle Fsadni and Anthony Camilleri, voted to approve the permit, after spending most of the session ignoring multiple concerns brought forward by opponents of the project.
Fsadni and Camilleri remained blankly silent throughout most of the lengthy session, while Baldacchino, who chairs the board, periodically offered a limp “it’s not within the board’s remit to decide on this” to concerns highlighted by objectors.
Shouts of “viva l-korruzjoni”, “you should be ashamed” and “how do you sleep at night” followed the outcome of the vote, as the board members continued to sit in silence.
“It’s obvious why you approved this, Joe Portelli is a billionaire,” another objector shouted, after which the online meeting was promptly terminated without prior notice, cutting the dissenters off.
'Salami sliced development'
Critics have said that “salami-slicing” the mega-development into three applications is an attempt by developers to bypass increased scrutiny that a larger project would have to undertake, such as an environmental impact assessment.
The two other applications in the trio have already been approved by the commission, despite being recommended for refusal by the PA’s own case officer.
Several objectors, who took up most of the hearing’s time, asked the board why they had done nothing to address the fact that the massive development had been split into three applications to avoid further scrutiny, instead choosing to focus only on the height limitation.
Baldacchino said that if this was an issue it should have been addressed at the application stage at it was not the board’s discretion to decide on such matters now.
Architect Saviour Micallef denied splitting up any applications, but was referring solely to the plot of land under review and not the other two approved applications which flank this site on two sides.
Objector Victor Borg said the development would have a negative impact on the adjacent Natura 2000 site and will prove detrimental to the protected seabirds who nest on the cliff-face.
Objectors Ryan Portelli and Samuel Debono repeatedly attempted to coax answers from the board on objections to the project aside from height limitations but proved unsuccessful in getting a straight answer.
“If we’re not going to consider the human element and the social impact that construction has, then what is the point of this board?” Portelli said.
“If your job is only to tick the boxes, then it might as well be done by robots.”
Resident Julia Camilleri accused the board of “double standards” in examining the context of the site and said she was disappointed in the whole planning process.
“It’s disheartening to see the energy you put into finding ways to allow the applicant to get his way, almost like there’s a sense of relief when things are legally favourable for applicants,” she said.
“If you devoted as much energy into seeing what the impact of this project will have on the community, the environment and the people of Sannat, you would not have been put under so much stress during this meeting.”
Uglification hits Gozo
FAA coordinator Astrid Vella said the board was “taking the uglification in Malta and imposing it on Gozo”.
“I don’t know under what criteria you could possibly consider this for approval, it’s outrageous,” she said. “Robots could do this job better than you.”
“We have been hearing from the government that there should be an emphasis on aesthetics for five years, yet I do not see approval from the design council on this.
“You are taking a quaint little village and turning it into the next Qawra, there is no character and nothing organic about it.”
A man called George Tabone asked the board why they had not considered the fact that apartments on this proposal had been offered to people, including himself, for sale years before the application had been decided on by the PA.
“This is not really our business, if you feel it is illegal, perhaps it should be a police matter,” Baldacchino replied.
“Then you are lining the coffin for this country,” he snapped back.
The committee discussed a number of minor design issues before going to a vote, after which they granted a non-executable permit, pending the inclusion of ERA requirements - a bicycle rack and some electric charging points - into the submitted drawings.