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Saghtrija illegalities set to be regularised

The illegalities awaiting sanctioning include a 38m2 chapel, a 38m2 horse stable with paddock, a 22m2 sheep pan, a 23m2 chicken coop and a 36m2 agricultural store

James Debono
4 August 2017, 9:19am
The Planning Commission intends to approve an application to regularise various illegally developed ODZ structures in the grounds of the Hal Saghtrija complex despite objections by both the Environment and Resources Authority and the Planning Directorate.

The application, presented by entrepreneur Joseph Portelli, aims to legalise various illegal structures in the countryside around the Saghtrija resort in Zebbug, Gozo.

The illegalities awaiting sanctioning include a 38m2 chapel, a 38m2 horse stable with paddock, a 22m2 sheep pan, a 23m2 chicken coop and a 36m2 agricultural store.

While the case officer called on the PA to refuse the application, the Planning Commission chaired by Elizabeth Ellul argued at a meeting yesterday that the proposed development is ancillary to the Hal Saghtrija Complex and within the boundaries of the complex. It called on the architect to submit plans showing the access from the complex to the site.

The board noted that this application was compliant with the Rural Policy approved in 2014, citing one of the vaguest paragraphs included in the policy which states that “the spirit” of the policy is to “allow whoever genuinely needs to upgrade or redevelop an existing building or to construct a new one outside the development zone.” The paragraph invoked by the commission also states applications in the ODZ “may be considered on their own merits” if it is felt that the proposal will generate an improvement to the area where it is located.

Since the board intends to overturn the case officer’s recommendation the decision was postponed to 12 September.

According to the case officer the animal enclosure and stable requested for sanctioning are constructed in rubble stone instead of lightweight material and timber as required by the Rural Policy. Furthermore, the external floor area of the horse stable exceeds the maximum permissible footprint of 25m2. With regard to the 36m2 agricultural store, it was noted that this was originally indicated as a kitchen and submitted photos confirm that the use of this structure is not related to any agricultural activity.

While describing the small chapel as “aesthetically pleasing”, the case officer noted that such structures are “not considered legitimate within the rural context.”

The case officer also notes that although Joseph Portelli, who is one of the owners of the Saghtrija complex, is registered as an arable farmer of eight tumoli of land no proof regarding any ongoing agricultural activity has been provided. Moreover to be eligible for a 36m2 agricultural store, one has to have 10 tumoli of land  registered in one’s name.

The Environment and Resources Authority objected to the regularisation of the various illegal structures at the Saghtrija residential complex, adding that regularisation would have adverse, cumulative environmental impacts including “the scattering of structures which could have easily been located within designated urban areas”.

The Planning Commission also seems intent on approving another application presented by Portelli to construct five timber stables (occupying 156m2) and two paddocks in another area of Hal Saghtrija in an area designated  for its landscape value. According to the ERA the area where the stables are being proposed originally consisted of garigue. Instead of refusing the development as recommended by the Planning Directorate, the Planning Commission has called for some changes to the plans to ensure that the development conforms to policy.

Hal Saghtrija is a residential project developed by Menfi Ltd, a consortium of Maltese and Gozitan companies, which includes Adrian Buttigieg, Alfred Mangion, Joseph Portelli and former Gozitan MP Franco Mercieca.

The Saghtrija complex consists of 75 luxury apartments perched on the Zebbug hill.

The construction outside development zones at Ta’ Saghtrija was approved in 2009 in a vote in which three board members, including present Environment Planning Commission chairman Elizabeth Ellul, had voted against.

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