Procedural error could lead to revocation of winery permit

The Planning Directorate and the PA’s legal office have called on the authority to investigate whether the permit can be revoked after 'an apparent procedural error' by board members

A permit for a 607m2 underground extension to a winery owned by former university rector Juanito Camilleri has been suspended pending an investigation of an “apparent procedural error” by the board members taking the decision.

The Planning Directorate and the PA’s legal office have called on the authority to investigate whether the permit can be revoked, not due to any shortcoming on the part of the applicant but due to a procedural error by the three members of the board who took the decision.

The winery extension was approved in a single sitting by two votes against one despite the negative recommendation of the case officer. Chairperson Elizabeth Ellul was not present for the meeting.  

But it turns out that according to a legal notice issued in 2016, in cases where a majority of board members intend voting against the advice of the case officer, the decision has to be put off to another sitting. “It is apparent that a procedural error was made when the commission overturned the recommendation in its first sitting,” a document presented by the directorate states. But to revoke the permit the PA would require evidence that this “error” had “a material bearing” on the issue of the permit. This would require the PA to prove that “had the correct information been available at the time of the decision, the decision would have been different”.The Planning Directorate argues that if the decision was deferred, the case officer would have been asked again for feedback which could have resulted in the board expressing a different opinion in the second sitting which, in this case, never took place.The development of the two-storey winery was originally approved in 2012. The new proposal extends the basement from the 253 square metres approved in 2008 to 860 square metres.   

The extended winery, located in the Ta’ Betta estates in Ta’ Bur il-Kbir, which cover 40,000 square metres of land, is set to produce 30,000 bottles of wine a year. The company has been ceritified as organic since 2009.  

The land on which the winery was approved was not used for agriculture but consisted of wasteland used by the previous owner as a place where to dump unsold produce.  

The rural policy approved in 2014 clearly states that ODZ wineries should be restricted to 200 square metres and a basement. The policy states that the area of the basement should not count as part of the total floor area but the policy also defines a basement as “an additional floor under the building’s footprint”.

The case officer argued that the winery as approved in 2012 already exceeded this limit and that the proposed basement went beyond not just the footprint of the existing building but also the approved paved area. Therefore he concluded that the permit could not be issued.

But the Agriculture Advisory Committee confirmed the genuine agricultural need for the new development. 

Chairperson Elizabeth Ellul, who was not present when the approval decision was taken on 8 June, has declared that she would have voted against the permit at the meeting during which the board imposed the condition through which Camilleri will have to plant three Gharghar trees on site and donate 100 indigenous trees, which will be grown on a public site.

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