Amnesty once meant for pre-2013 illegalities, will include recent offences

When first announced in 2015 the amnesty was meant to apply to pre-2013 illegalities

Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg had said that the amnesty would only apply for illegalities committed before 2013
Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg had said that the amnesty would only apply for illegalities committed before 2013

Illegalities committed as recently as a few months ago, even when located in historical urban areas, can still be regularised through the new planning amnesty announced on Monday.

This is because the legal notice, which foresees the regularisation of illegalities against the payment of a fee, applies to any illegality which appears on aerial photos taken by the PA in 2016. 

Speculation on the imminent planning amnesty has been rife since February last year, when Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg confirmed that the authority was considering an amnesty for illegalities committed before 2013 in development zones and before 1994 in ODZ illegalities.

But the legal notice which came into effect on Monday excludes the regularisation of ODZ development and includes illegalities carried out within the development zone – including urban conservation areas – between 2013 and 2016.  

The PA could well have used 2012 as a cut off date for illegalities covered by the planning amnesty. This is because the authority has aerial photos dating back to that date. 

It may even have opted for an earlier cut off date such as 1994, 1998 or 2008, for which comprehensive sets of aerial photos are available. 

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 amnesty, unlike previous exemptions from pending enforcement orders introduced before 2013, will enable owners to sell such properties.

Instead the PA has chosen to use the newest set of aerial photos, which are not even available on its map server. 

The planning amnesty announced by parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri is not limited to dwellings with minor irregularities but applies to a wide range of illegal developments, including boathouses, livestock buildings in urban areas, sports facilities, garages, car parks and even film sets.

Regularising a small 25 square metre boathouse would cost a mere €200. Although the amnesty does not apply to ODZ areas like Armier or Gnejna, illegal boathouses are also found in urban locations such as Valletta, Cottonera, Marsaskala and St Paul’s Bay. The safeguard in this case is that the amnesty is only applicable to registered fishermen.  

The amnesty, which is limited to illegalities within development zones is also applicable to illegalities in urban conservation areas. The legal notice also refers to generic categories like “special buildings or uses”.

The amnesty is not automatic because applications for regularisation will still be assessed by a board but curiously in cases where an application is refused the PA is legally obliged to refund 90% of planning fees.  

The legal notice specified that the illegal development should constitute an injury to amenity but allows the PA to effectively regularise residential and retail development even if these defy present policies. 

According to Deborah Schembri the new scheme will address social problems faced by separated persons and people suffering from illnesses. 

“Many people are unable to sell their properties, because banks refuse to loan money to people who want to purchase houses with planning illegalities,” she said. “This means that some separated couples are forced to live under the same roof, and that cancer patients are unable to sell their houses to fund their chemotherapy treatment. Through this scheme, the value of their properties will rise significantly,” she said.

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