The Armier boathouse lobby has yet to see whether it will appeal a sensational court ruling that has declared the construction of 12 boathouses built on public land in the environs of the Armier bay, illegal.
Judge Anthony Ellul declared today that a written communication exchanged between the government and Armier Developments Ltd, the company representing the Armier boathouse 'squatters', was not deemed to be a binding contract, ordering the illegal constructions to be immediately evicted.
Ellul today held that the caravans and illegal constructions at Armier were built on public land and very close to the foreshore. "Any transfer of public land has to be carried out in terms of law and the foreshore cannot be privatised... Transfer of land on shores for the building of caravans can only be by title of rent for less than 10 years."
The director of Armier Developments, Tarcisio Barbara, said his lobby has yet to see whether it will appeal the court judgement.
"The decision concerned 12 illegal constructions on the Armier perimeter which the former Mellieha mayor deemed that they had to be removed. The Lands Department proceeded with an eviction notice, which we first managed to stop with a prohibitory injunction, and later we filed a court case challenging the decision," Barbara said.
But Barbara felt that the decision should not necessarily prejudice the agreements the lobby had already secured with the Nationalist and Labour parties.
"They may not be contracts, but they are letters of intent. And there are many properties predating 1967, which were constructed from concessions granted to their owners. Now we are trying to find a solution to have them regulated."
Barbara said that the court sentence should not necessarily apply to all the Armier boathouses. "It depends on what type of structure it is and where it is built. This judgement only concerns 12 buildings."
In April 2003, the Nationalist government had proposed a temporary emphyteusis for 65 years for the boathouses against payment of Lm15,700. The agreement included the construction of a minimum of 500 units for new dwellers who did not occupy a caravan or boathouse in the area. In 2007, then leader of the Opposition Alfred Sant confirmed that the agreement would be honoured. A year later, then prime minster Gonzi declared that the April 2003 letter was binding on the government. The proposal also said that boathouses built prior to 1992 would not be demolished. Armier Developments had also said that Joseph Muscat had confirmed an agreement originally reached in 2002 with Labour MP Joe Mizzi.
But the court heard the Commissioner of Lands say that for years the public land was used without authorisation and none of the occupants had paid any sort of rent or compensation to the government.
After the Commissioner of Lands commenced eviction proceedings, Armier Developments Ltd filed a court application requesting that the eviction order is declared null and unenforceable. They also claimed an agreement with the government in 2003 gave them legal title of land. Enemalta also provided water and electricity services to these constructions, with ADL telling the court that this had legalised the residents' right over the land.
But the court replied that this fact raises a number of questions, and that a miscarriage of one public entity does not automatically legalise the illegal constructions.
Importantly, the court concluded that a proposal letter could not be deemed a binding contract. "The parties were still conducting negotiations. The letter was a proposal," the judge said. The 2007 and 2008 confirmations were not legally binding either as nobody can occupy public land without any right or legal title.
Constructions at Little Armier on public land were illegal and caravan occupants had no legal title to the land, Mr Justice Anthony Ellul said, rejecting the application of Armier Development Ltd and giving the green light for the Commissioner of Lands to go ahead with the eviction order.
Green party Alternattiva Demokratika welcomed the ruling. Carmel Cacopardo, deputy chairman AD, said the party had during the past years campaigned actively for the demolition of the Armier shantytown. "The issue even formed part of AD's electoral manifesto for the March 2013 general elections. The land next to the sea should be accessible to all and not to a select few. As the minister responsible for the Lands Department,Joseph Muscat should call in the demolition people next Monday."
On his part, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declined to comment on the court decree. Asked to comment, Muscat said it would be "premature" to express any views before he had read the full sentence. He said that given the sentence was not at appeals stage, the concerned individuals could still take the necessary steps.