The Environmental Planning Review Tribunal has allowed works to begin on a contested application to construct a block of flats outside the development zone in Sannat.
The application to turn a rural site into 22 flats with 15 underlying garages and pool on Triq ta’ Bebunaq and Triq it-Tempju tal-Imramma is being fronted by construction magnate Joseph Portelli’s business partner, Mark Agius and architect Saviour Micallef.
The Planning Authority approved the application in March of 2020, despite a recommendation for refusal, with heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa appealing the decision last May on grounds that the decision had gone against a number of applicable planning policies and directives.
Additionally, the appellants are arguing that the application cannot be judged in a vacuum, as it was part of an attempt to fragment a mega-development which consists of two other planning applications in an attempt to avoid the scrutiny that would be necessary for such a massive development.
Moviment Graffitti came out in strong opposition to the other two applications, calling it “a tried-and-tested tactic that allows developers to obtain permits with relative ease by avoiding the requirement for the conduction of an Environmental Impact Assessment”.
At the first tribunal hearing, Din l-Art Ħelwa filed a request for the suspension of works, as part of the grounds for opposing the development are specifically linked to the loss of soil.
However, the tribunal decided against the appellants and refused the suspension of permit, allowing the developer to begin work.
“The loss of soil and excavation in ODZ will likely form part of the initial phase of works. By allowing the development to start the tribunal is rendering a number of grounds of our appeal void because the damage will be done before we even get the chance to be heard,” architect Tara Cassar told Times of Malta.
“The next sitting will be held on September 28, and it won’t be the last. The case is likely to drag on for months if not a year making it all the more likely that the development we are opposing will be built before we ever get a decision on the appeal.”
Despite the possibility of the imminent loss of soil on the property, there are other troubling aspects of the application, Cassar explained.
“One of the main issues is that the development was approved at a height that exceeds the building height limitation imposed for ridge edge developments. This is partly due to an interpretation of policy initiated by Martin Saliba, the executive chairman,” she said.
“The development is also contentious because it is one of three that were filed separately. The salami-slicing tactic adopted made it harder for the true impact of the proposed developments to be assessed adequately by PA/ERA.”
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