Developers don’t need ‘consent’ with lease agreement in hand

New rules make it easier for developers with lease agreements to file applications without requesting owners’ consent

The St Julian’s Carmelite monastery car park was the subject of a private agreement signed between the former prior and his brother, a developer, but is now being challenged by the Maltese archbishop
The St Julian’s Carmelite monastery car park was the subject of a private agreement signed between the former prior and his brother, a developer, but is now being challenged by the Maltese archbishop

The Planning Authority will allow developers of projects on land they do not own, to present “agreements” signed with landowners without having to seek their express consent at the time of application.

This means that agreements such as a ‘promise of sale’ or lease contract that foresees the proposed development, can be used to indicate a developer’s green light from the owner of the land.

Before these new rules, even in cases where developers have entered an agreement with owners, they still had to notify the owners of their intentions by a registered letter of which a copy had to be presented and to declare that the owner had granted consent to the proposed development.

But sources who spoke to MaltaToday think problems could result in these latest changes, if owners have reservations on aspects of the development which depart from the original agreement.

“One of the advantages of the current application form is that it prevents litigation because it obliges developers to inform and seek consent to the plans as presented,” an architect told MaltaToday. “It is also gives the government a greater say on plans when applications are presented on public land leased to private interests”, he added.

Even more problematic will be cases in which the owners themselves challenge the legality of such agreements. One such case is the St Julian’s Carmelite monastery car park in which a private agreement signed between the former prior and his brother, a developer, is being challenged by the Maltese archbishop.

Although the legality of the agreement is still being challenged by both the Carmelite Order and the Archdiocese, the Planning Authority still issued the permit. But the case is now subject to an appeal in which both the archbishop and the Order contend that they never issued their consent to the development as required by law.

The change in the way application forms are to be filled was enacted through a circular to architects issued by the Planning Authority. According to the Authority this is being done to “better reflect” the law.

Originally the first draft of the new planning law approved in 2016 removed the need to seek consent of the owners. But following criticism in the media, the need for consent was retained in the new law, albeit with the provision that the applicant can apply on other people’s property if “s/he is authorised to carry out such proposed development under any other law or through an agreement with the owner”.

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