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NGOs file judicial protest to stop ‘opaque and unfair’ planning amnesty

“It is a clear attempt to ensure this ‘regularisation’ is as opaque as possible and takes place without the public’s scrutiny, as happened for the past 24 years in Malta’s planning process”

Matthew Vella
2 September 2016, 9:37am
Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri
Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri
The eNGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Din l-Art Helwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association Malta have filed the attached judicial letter in court against Dr Deborah Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, calling for the court to stop the ‘regularisation’ of illegal developments as provided in a planning amnesty.

Within the first week, 43 requests for regularisation had already been submitted without the public having any means to access information about these cases.

The three-year scheme will apply for buildings within development zones that appear on the Planning Authority’s aerial photographs for 2016, against a minimum €1,000 fees. Unlike previous regularisation legal notices in 2012 and 2013, this scheme will not merely offer concessions but rather full planning permits.

Property owners have a two-year period in which to apply, while the legal notice also allows the PA to extend the scheme for a third year with fees 25% higher.

The eNGOs hold Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri responsible for this violation of universally-accepted principles of transparency, justice and good governance, and call on her to take all the necessary measures to remedy the situation. 

Unlike previous pardons, this amnesty also applies to abuse in Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) and scheduled heritage buildings.

Furthermore, this latest one ​is not limited to minor but also covers major, more damaging construction infringements which may undermine neighbours’ quality of life.

“For this reason the eNGOs are particularly objecting to the fact the legal notice sets out a process of regularisation by stealth, ditching any pretence of full transparency and public scrutiny which has been the claim of Malta's planning authority over the last 24 years.”

The NGOs said the legal notice broke every principle of transparency because it will not publicise the applications for regularisation in the government gazette, prohibiting third parties from making their own submissions or object to their regularisation.

“It is a clear attempt to ensure this ‘regularisation’ is as opaque as possible and takes place without the public’s scrutiny, as happened for the past 24 years in Malta’s planning process.”

The NGOs also said that the legal notice was not exempt from being objected to by third parties, as laid down in the Planning and Development Act, of which it falls under.

“The parliamentary secretary has created a class of different applications – those of regularisation – which are not subject to public scrutiny and can be decided in obscurity... applicants can regularise their illegal development, and be rewarded with an expedited process where the public cannot object.”

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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