First Person

UPDATE: Planning Authority approves block of flats despite doubts and policies

Update 2/12/2022 2pm

  • The Planning Commission delivered permit for the block of flats. These points can be made: the development is in breach of various policies, the process violated fair hearing principles, doubts remained over the consistency of measurements and heights of buildings, and the sewage system cannot cope with the present load, let alone an addition of 42 flats. 
  • Yet the indication is that a decision to deliver permit was taken before the meeting because the chairperson towards the end pointed out that some minor design amendments can be addressed "post-decision" – the clear implication being that the decision would be to approve the permit and then these can be tweaked afterwards. This suggests that the vote at the end was a mere formality, if not a charade. 

Tomorrow the Planning Commission will hold the sixth hearing in a year on a proposed block of flats at Tas-Sajtun, which attracted one of the highest number of objections for any development applications in Gozo. The block with its wide frontage would loom over Dahlet Qorrot Valley in Nadur.  

In meeting after meeting over the past year, a range of issues were raised by a range of people, and the Planning Commission asked for more information over and over again as a result. The more sustained submissions were made by the Buttigieg family, who live across the street from proposed development, and their legal representatives – Mark Muscat and Tony Cassar – as well as myself (I spoke on behalf of environmental NGOs).

The issues raised ranged from questions over ownership to problems with overflows of sewage in the area, as well as magnitude of the building and its impact on the skyline and on the rural area.

In the last meeting, held six weeks ago, I contended that the photomontages did not appear to be accurate and ran the Planning Commission through the various calculations I had made. The Planning Commission chairperson then said that the Planning Authority’s technical team, the directorate, would be asked to “verify” new photomontages that would be made after the architect agreed to scale down the bulk of the building.

The applicant then reduced the bulk of the building by introducing a stepped profile along the contour of the ridge where it is situated. Yet the applicant or architect did not go as far in scaling down as instructed by members of the Planning Commission during the meeting.

On the photomontages, the Planning Commission asked the directorate in its minutes to “indicate if photomontages submitted are according to the criteria of Circular 4/16 or otherwise.”

Circular 4/16 lays out the submission requirements for planning application. And the case officer, in an updated report published yesterday, made reference to Circular 6/15 instead, which is the correct circular about photomontages.

Yet even at this stage, after five meetings, questions remain, including questions about the new photomontages. (An architect I consulted with also raised various points). 

The Water Services Corporation has also still not replied to the Planning Authority’s letters seeking consultation over the sewage overflow. Nadur’s mayor, Edward Said, twice reiterated in two of the meetings that the sewage system cannot cope, and that sewage overflows when it rains and gushes down to San Blas Bay, one of the Maltese Island’s most scenic bays.

And of course any further developments in the area – especially a large one such as the one proposed for Tas-Sajtun – would increase the load on the sewage system. Planning logic would suggest that no new significant developments would be allowed until the sewage system is upgraded – and this is the kind of logic the Development Planning Act puts on the government – but in a planning system that has gone perverse, logic has become a rare commodity. 

The Planning Commission is aware that it is under scrutiny over this application. And tomorrow it is bound to be reminded again that doubts still remain over the proposed development, even after five meetings and despite the downscaling of the proposed block of flats.

If you like to joint the meeting via online video link tomorrow, go to this page and click on Request to Join Commission Webmeeting and then fill in your email address. 

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