Flats set to rise over a valley where families take children to feed ducks in ponds filled with water all year round were being advertised for sale on Facebook two days before the Planning Authority affixed the notice of the development application on site.

At another site, three hours after Planning Authority granted permit for 73 flats, a post on Facebook advertised the “last few available" flats for sale in that same block of 73 flats

The so-called ‘site notice’ serves to kick off the planning process by announcing the development application and inviting the public to view the architectural drawings and submit representations or objections.

Click to enlarge

The sales promotion for the block of 54 flats and 41 garages at Wied Ta Zejta went up on the Facebook page of DTX Projects, the Facebook moniker of DTX Holdings Limited, a company owned by Daniel Refalo.

Refalo is partner with the Agius brothers (Ta Dirjanu) and property magnate Joseph Portelli in a company called Excel Investments Limited. Portelli is the majority shareholder of Excel, a company that is building some of the largest blocks of flats ever constructed on Gozo. The three of them are also owners of PRA Construction Limited. The application for the 54 flats at Ta Zewjta was put in by a person called Thomas Grech, who is listed on social media as Construction Manager of PRA Construction. He declared to be “an owner of the entire site” in the application form.

This website lifted the lid on the project two weeks ago.

The site where the block of 54 flats is proposed

The block of flats sits within a protrusion of the development lines drawn up in the so-called Temporary Planning Schemes of 1988. The protrusion, extending from the main development line down to the valley, remained uncorrected in the rationalization exercise of 2006, which was supposed to smoothen out anomalies in the “temporary” development boundaries of 1988.

At the time the land belonged to a company called Gozo Consolidated Building Contractors, mostly owned by the business family known as Ta French. In the early 1990s, the Planning Authority stopped works on a building extended illegally. In the years that followed, Ignatius Attard on behalf of the company made two attempts to develop the site, but the Planning Authority refused each of the development applications.

The promotion on Facebook pertaining to the latest application also says that the block of flats would have a “communal garden”, something that does not appear in the plans for the current development application.

Excel has in various developments applied for swimming pools and grounds beyond the development zone after first getting a permit for blocks of flats.

Swimming pools beyond development lines tend to be permitted via a loophole introduced in the rural policy of 2015. A revamped rural policy – which was due to maintain the swimming pools in ODZ loophole – was launched for public consultation in July of 2020, but it has not been put into effect.

It has become standard practice for blocks of flats that belong to Joseph Portelli and his partners in Gozo to go on sale well before a development permit is granted.

Yesterday the Planning Authority delivered a permit for a block of 73 flats at Ta Sannat on land owned by Excel. The block is part of a cluster of three blocks that together amount to 124 flats. In that case Excel bought a strip of land stretching to cliff’s edge on which various illegal developments have taken place, including the construction of 6 round stone structures that appear to be shaping up into corbelled huts. An application has also been put in for stables.

Digital rendition of the 73 flats, which have wide frontage and austere or nondescript façade.

This website published an investigation into that project last month.  

Part of this Sannat land falls on protected Natura 2000 site, managed by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). ERA said in response to questions that the Planning Authority is responsible for any illegal development. Questions sent to the authority remained unanswered.

Natura 2000 sites are EU-level protected areas, and the NGO Birdlife Malta has since reported ERA’s non-committal approach to the EU Commission.

The flats in the Sannat development also went on sale before planning permits were granted.

Post on Facebook 3 hours after Planning Authority granted permit

The planning board yesterday adopted a narrow interpretation of planning policies – and paid no heed to hundreds of objections – to deliver permit for the block of 73 flats. Two or three hours after the granting of permit for the 73 flats, a post went up on the Facebook page of DTX Projects advertising the “last few available units [flats]” for sale in that same block of 73 flats.

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