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Tribunal denounces PA’s arbitrary release of documents

A Planning Authority official confirmed that registered objectors to an application only have access to documents made available to the general public

james
James Debono
21 April 2017, 9:00am
The countryside ruins which will be turned in to a terraced house thanks to a permit issued on basis of document issued by the Gozo branch of the National Archives, which was not shown to objectors
The countryside ruins which will be turned in to a terraced house thanks to a permit issued on basis of document issued by the Gozo branch of the National Archives, which was not shown to objectors
Planning documents are being released in an arbitrary way which has now been deemed unacceptable by the PA’s Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. 

Environmental NGOs have long complained about lack of access to sensitive documents presented to the PA in the course of planning applications.

In this particular case related to the notorious practice of converting countryside ruins in to brand new ODZ dwellings, a document submitted by the Gozo National Archives proving the existence of the dwelling in the late 19th century, was not made available to objectors.  

The document signed by Assistant National Archivist Joseph Bezzina notes that the 1898 map marks the site with a “solid square” in a clear indication of a “whole building” and not a single room.

The objectors claimed that this prevented them from having a fair hearing.

In December 2015 the PA approved a terraced house in place of the ruins of a building which was listed as a residence in the 1902 electoral register of which only the foundations can be seen in a 1957 survey sheet.  In March the case was thrown back to the Environment Planning Commission  by the Tribunal. The Tribunal ordered the PA to hear the application again after giving full access to documents to the objectors. 

But the original decision to grant the permit was yesterday confirmed by the same commission which had originally approved it after objectors were given access to the documents in question.

“It is unacceptable that Planning Authority officials decide which documents should be made available to the different parties in a case,” the Tribunal concluded when faced with a case which exposed shortcomings in the way the PA makes its documents available to the public.

The cross examination of PA officials reveals that no legal guidance exists on which documents should be made accessible to the public on the PA website. 

The PA official confirmed that registered objectors to an application only have access to documents made available to the general public. 

A PA official explained that although no official memo exists, the documents made accessible on line are limited to plans submitted by the applicant, all the replies given by consultees and all registered objections.  Other documents, reports and minutes are not made available to the public.

PA magic wand turns ruins to villa again

The case revolved on an appeal presented by objectors to a permit issued by the PA in 2015 to “dismantle the existing ruins of a dwelling and to construct a terraced house” in Kercem Gozo. The new two storey 180 square metre dwelling is located in an ODZ rural hamlet where development taking up fresh land is not allowed. The site is located in a  scheduled Area of Ecological Importance  and an Area of High Landscape Value (Wied ix-Xlendi Watershed). 

The objectors had filed a compliant with David Cassar of the Customer Care Unit of the PA regarding the absence of certain documents online. Cassar replied that the request should request the board for a copy of the required documents. But this request was disregarded by the board.

The documents in question consisted of old survey sheets from the national archives proving the past residential use of the building of which only ruins exist. The development of the terraced house had been approved on the basis of Policy 6.2C which allows for the redevelopment of long demolished ODZ structures.

The 1957 site aerial photo indicates the foundations of the original structure on site. Most of these foundations have since been demolished or have deteriorated. 

The proof of previous residence consisted in the electoral register of 1902 which declares that the said property was inhabited by a certain Cassar Michele. In addition, the architect submitted an old map of this particular site within the limits of Kercem in which residential settlements were marked.

Using a superimposition of this map with recent aerial photography, the Gozo national archives “concluded that the building as shown on the 1898 map seems to coincide with the ruins present on site today.”  This document was not made available to the objectors. 

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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