The Planning Authority has introduced a new scheme permitting property owners to pay to regularise illegal developments that could not be sanctioned under existing policies.

The new scheme, valid for two years, allows buildings (or parts of buildings) not covered by a permit to be regularised as long as they are within development zones and do not constitute “an injury to amenity”, such as disturbing neighbours or the environment.

The use of the building also has to be in line with the policy for the area and the development must be visible in aerial photos taken by the PA earlier this year.

Regularisation takes place according to a new regime of fees, such as €1,500 for a 150-square metre apartment and €4,300 for a penthouse of 100 square metres.

Environmental organisations have warned that it risks sending the message that abuse will pay off in the long run, as well as being unfair to those who have carried out rectifications while buying or selling buildings to ensure they were in line with all the necessary policies.

However, parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri insisted the scheme would help a significant number of people struggling to sell their properties because of illegalities that often dated back years.

“The ideal would be for everyone to follow the law from the start,” she said during a press conference earlier today. “But the reality is that if we were to enforce every single illegality, we’d have to knock down three quarters of the buildings in the country. A decision had to be taken.

“By setting a clear cut-off date, we are sending a signal that enforcement will be strictly applied going forward. If you build now, we will enforce. Nobody has an excuse.”

The reality is that if we were to enforce every single illegality, we’d have to knock down three quarters of the buildings in the country

Dr Schembri said the new scheme represented a “line of demarcation” and said nobody should plan on building illegally in the hopes of regularising under a similar scheme.

Nevertheless, she did not rule out the possibility of such a scheme being made available again at some point in the future.

During the public consultation process on the new law in May, concerns were raised by Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and Din L-Art Ħelwa, among others.

FAA coordinator Astrid Vella said: “This is very damaging not only to our urban areas but also to our economy, as it undermines the concept of a level playing field when one player goes by the book and fulfils all legal requirements while others take shortcuts and are so generously rewarded.”

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