Swatar landowners now want to change local plans to force development plans

Owners of 123,000sq.m farmland want to change local plan that limits development and requires development brief before any construction takes place

The developers want to enshrine the development of 70% of the site, and the inclusion of commercial and residential development as high as 22m in the local plan
The developers want to enshrine the development of 70% of the site, and the inclusion of commercial and residential development as high as 22m in the local plan

The owners of a 123,000 sq.m plot of land in Swatar have changed their tactics to obtain approval to develop a swath of agricultural land that defines the landscape by the Dun Karm bypass.

The consortium has now applied to change the entire local plan for the area, in a way that will accommodate their demands for residential and commercial development. Previously, they hoped their planning control applications would relax height and zoning limitations on the farmland that buffers the village of Swatar from the main road.

It was MaltaToday which two years ago had raised the issue with the Planning Authority, asking whether the developers could even apply for their proposed development when the local plan clearly obliges the PA to formulate a development brief, before any permits issued on lands added only to the development zones in 2006.

According to the local plan, a development brief should consider “low traffic generating” employment uses in the area, with “preference given to ancillary uses and related to the existing Mater Dei Hospital and the University”.

The provision of a limited amount of student housing is also to be considered. The brief was also meant to examine the scope for expansion of the existing private school in this area.

Instead, the developers are now proposing a mix of residential and commercial developments over most of the site, while accommodating for the expansion of the school.

But back in 2019, a spokesperson for the PA told MaltaToday that the authority had no intention of preparing this brief, “unless directed by Government to do so” and that in the absence of a development brief, “the owner/s may apply to set zoning conditions in the area through a Planning Control Applications.”

It remained a mystery as to how the PA could even consider a zoning application which was in clear breach of the local plan. So the developers have now changed their application, to change the goalposts by asking the PA to change the entire local plan and accommodate the development they are proposing.

This would result in an awkward situation where the development proposed will not be judged according to the local plan currently in place, which was originally approved through public consultation. Instead, the developers want to force in place a new local plan. But this is not entirely unprecedented as changes to the local plan have already been made to accommodate developments like the Qormi shopping mall.

The developers want to enshrine the development of 70% of the site, and the inclusion of commercial and residential development as high as 22m in the local plan.

But the area is a green lung in the heavily congested area, which means its development would eliminate one of the few rural enclaves separating Swatar from Msida.

The landowners include S.C. & Co Limited, PD Finance, Paul Vella’s P&S Ltd, Anton Camilleri’s Camcas Ltd, Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti, entrepreneur James Barbara and several other individual owners. The Lands Authority owns part of the site.

The enormous site is one of the largest areas added to the development zones in 2006 and is bounded by Triq Dun Karm bypass, Triq is-Swatar, Triq Indri Grima and Triq Mgr Innocenz Zammit. Apart from extensive agricultural fields, the area also includes a number of old farmhouses, rubble walls and some dwellings.

The PA has recently asked the developers to prepare studies assessing the traffic impact of the controversial zoning application over an area the size of 15 football pitches.

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