388 illegalities sanctioned during electoral campaign

A MaltaToday probe reveals a spike in the number of minor illegalities regularised by the Planning Authority in the election period and the two subsequent weeks

james
James Debono
20 July 2017, 7:30am
The 388 permits issued during the electoral campaign represent a sharp rise from the 189 regularisation permits issued in the five weeks between 29 March and 3 May (File photo)
The 388 permits issued during the electoral campaign represent a sharp rise from the 189 regularisation permits issued in the five weeks between 29 March and 3 May (File photo)
A MaltaToday probe reveals a spike in the number of minor illegalities regularised by the Planning Authority in the election period and the two subsequent weeks.

The permits were issued through a regularisation scheme through which owners pay a fine to have their properties fully regularised, so that they can become available for sale.

388 regularisation permits were granted in the five weeks  between 10 May and 6 June. 209 granted permits were also listed on the government gazettes in the subsequent two weeks. But the number of permits dropped to just 52 in the first two weeks of July.

The 388 permits issued during the electoral campaign represent a sharp rise from the 189 regularisation permits issued in the five weeks between 29 March and 3 May. 211 permits were issued between 22 February and 22 March and only 140 permits were issued between 18 January and 15 February while 114 permits were issued between 7 December and 11 January. Just 12 permits were issued between 2 November and 30 November.

The highest number of permits for regularisation was published on the government gazette edition of 6 June which refers to 127 permits issued in the previous week, which coincided with the final days of the campaign.  

While an average of 33 permits were issued each week in the period between 7 December and 3 May, an average of 77 permits were issued in the period between 10 May and 6 June. An average of 65 permits was issued each week in the month after the election.

The regularisation scheme, which came into effect in August 2016, excludes the regularisation of ODZ developments but includes illegalities carried out within the development zone – including urban conservation areas – carried out before 2016. 

Although anyone regularising an illegality will have to pay a hefty fine, which can rise up to €7,600 for a 175 square metre illegal penthouse, the scheme, unlike previous exemptions from pending enforcement orders introduced before 2013, will enable owners to sell such properties. The ‘amnesty’ is not automatic because a board assesses applications for regularisation.

The Planning Authority is legally obliged to refund 90% of the fees incurred by applicants whose applications to regularise illegalities are rejected, and is under no legal obligation to ask these owners, through an enforcement notice, to remove these illegalities.

Most illegalities sanctioned consist of minor irregularities like internal yards build not according to sanitary regulations, lack of respect for street alignment and minor deviations from approved plans.

But among the illegalities sanctioned in the election period include an entire maisonette constructed illegally in Swieqi, a  residential unit constructed instead of a garage in Mellieha, an apartment constructed instead of a washroom in Saint Paul’s Bay, en eight floor penthouse in Gzira, which was build illegally, the combination of two flats in to a maisonette in Ghajnsielem, the first and second floors of a dwelling in Siggiewi, the subdivision of various apartments in to different flats.

Revved up machine

Last week, MaltaToday revealed that more permits were issued in the five weeks’ long election campaign of 2017 than in nine weeks of the 2013 electoral campaign, a MaltaToday analysis has concluded.

The power of incumbency was well employed by the Labour administration this year, with an average of 38 permits a day – weekends included – issued during the last general election campaign compared to just five during the 2013 campaign, and 24 in the 2008 general election campaign, when the PN was re-elected by just 1,500 votes.

Additionally, an average of nearly five permits outside development zones (ODZ) were issued every day in this year’s campaign, compared to three ODZ permits per day in 2008 and less than one ODZ permit per day in 2013 – possibly the result of Lawrence Gonzi’s ‘ODZ is ODZ’ policy employed after his 2008 election win.

A total of 364 permits, 46 of them ODZ, were issued in the last week of the 2017 electoral campaign. Only 60 permits were issued in the final ninth week in 2013 while 228 were issued in 2008.

Significantly, the number of permits granted in the 2017 campaign increased from 168 in the first week of the campaign, to a record 364 in the final week. No such change was seen in 2013 when the number of permits issued in the first week of the campaign stood at 71, only to drop to 60 in the final ninth week.

Additionally, in the two weeks prior to the general election, the planning board that dispenses permits on a day-to-day basis would meet everyday instead of three days a week as per custom. That means there were four extra board meetings in those two weeks.

Certain applicants were also notified that board meetings to be held after the election, would be brought back to before the election date so that a decision is taken before voters cast their ballots.

In total 1,247 permits were issued in the five weeks of the 2017 campaign, compared to 789 in the 2008 campaign, which had a similar duration. Only 321 permits were issued in the nine weeks-long 2013 campaign. 

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