The Qala mayor has expressed his frustration at construction magnate Joseph Portelli’s audacity as he persists in carrying out illegal excavations and development in an area known as Ta’ Kassja.

“Residents are increasingly becoming irritated with the lack of respect for Qala’s natural beauty and identity. This has to stop,” Paul Buttigieg said.

On Tuesday, Moviment Graffitti flagged the illegal works on ODZ land, publishing a picture showing two excavators carrying out work next to an extensive apartment block project, which Portelli owns in Qala.

“How long will the authorities be servile to Portelli’s arrogance?” the NGO asked.

“It is totally unacceptable that people like Portelli continue destroying our environment and quality of life. We expect immediate action to be taken.”

Shortly afterwards, the planning authority halted the illegal works it said were ongoing beyond the permissible area.

A PA spokesperson told Times of Malta that excavation works on adjacent ODZ are partly approved, however, the excavations proceeded beyond the permit.

The PA said all works on this part of the development were stopped last Tuesday morning as soon as the authority was alerted. A warning notice has been issued with the PA saying it will continue to monitor the case.

The approved part of the project is a complex of 164 apartments, and Graffitti and the Qala council say the developers divided the permit application into four different stages to avoid going through an environmental impact assessment which large projects are obliged to undergo.

In May last year, the council objected to two permits and called on the planning authority to revoke them.

'The project was almost finished'

“We submitted our objections in May and forked out €4,000 in the process, but only got a hearing date in December,” the mayor said.

“In the meantime, some 20 workers kept coming every day and continued to work on construction, and by the time the hearing was held, the project was almost finished.

“During the hearing, we felt like they had already made up their minds, irrespective of what we had to say.”

Buttigieg expressed his frustration with the rampant overdevelopment.

“People are growing more frustrated with overdevelopment and overpopulation in Gozo,” he said.

“Monstrous buildings such as this one are ruining the identity of Qala and Gozo. Gozo is becoming another Malta, and if it does, why would Maltese people come to spend their holidays in Gozo? Our island will cease to be attractive for all tourists.”

Developers are erecting some 500 new apartments in a village with 2,300 registered residents, he noted.

“This means that soon, the population of Qala will increase by at least a thousand people. The village and our narrow streets cannot handle that number of people,” Buttigieg added.

Attempts to get a comment from Portelli proved in vain. A spokesperson for his company said the Qala site was owned by Exel Ltd, of which Portelli was one of three directors.

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