Planning Tribunal

Construction completed on Joseph Portelli’s 51 flats before appeal against planning permit decided

Environmental NGOs are spending thousands on judicial appeals

Construction on a block of 51 flats and 35 garages situated 350 metres from the cliff’s edge at Ta Cenc area has been completed even before the planning tribunal has decided on an appeal against the planning permit.

The five-storey block of flats near Ta Cenc, with their pools outback jutting beyond the development zone, are part of a cluster of developments belonging to property magnate Joseph Portelli and two of his partners, the Agius brothers and Daniel Refalo.

The entire cluster, amounting to 148 flats and spread over an area of around 6,000 square metres (less than a football ground), is turning a quiet neighbourhood at the fringes of the development zone into one of the densest residential zones in Gozo.

The cluster of blocks of flats was divided into four development applications – all of which were approved by the Planning Authority – and construction is complete in two of the four parts. In the development application, these two parts was put under different names – one in the name of Mark Agius, one of developers, and the other in the name of Joseph Vella, who works for Ta Dirjanu, a company owned by the Agius family. 

The first two parts as seen from the countryside at the back

Appeals against the two permits of the blocks that have now been fully constructed, both of which have swimming pools beyond the development zone outback, were made by the environmental NGO Din L-Art Helwa. A third permit for 73 flats and 60 garages across the street – in this case the underground garages are currently being constructed – was appealed by Din L-Art Helwa and Moviment Graffitti. The NGOs are spending thousands of euros in administrative and legal fees on the appeals.

The NGOs filed requests for suspension of commencement of works – or execution of permit in wording used in the law – while the appeal is being heard. These requests were rejected by the planning tribunal in all three cases.

The tribunal regularly refuses requests to suspend execution of permit even though the two criteria set in law, considered holistically, logically point towards suspension for developments that cannot be “easily removed or reversed”, as buildings of this magnitude tend to be.

In rejecting the requests for suspension, the tribunal’s reply in the three cases was that allowing construction to go ahead would not create a “disproportionate” prejudice to appellants in relation to prejudice suffered by the developers. It added that in any case “it cannot be excluded that the appellants have other remedies in the Civil Courts.”

Yet the law that regulates the tribunal specifies that an appeal against the tribunal’s refusal to suspend works can only be filed at the Court of Appeal once the appeal is decided. And, since the appeal has not yet been decided and the construction is already complete, the NGOs appealing against the permit would see no point in appealing against a decision not to suspend works at a time when the construction would be completed in any case.

Scopoli's shearwater (Copyright:

The cluster of blocks of flats, which are set to transform the sleepy neighbourhood, are situated 350 metres away from cliffs that hold the largest colony of nesting scopoli’s shearwaters in the Maltese Islands. The cliffs are an EU-level Natura 2000 protected area. Birdlife International says that the nesting birds in these cliffs are under “very high” threat due to various things, including light and noise pollution, as well as “residential and commercial development.”

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