Illegal batching plant operating despite enforcement order

Illegal batching plant in Siggiewi operating day and night three years after illegal construction in the area was reported by MaltaToday

An illegal batching plant located in the vicinity of the falconry centre at Siggiewi is now operating day and night despite an enforcement order, which had been issued by the Planning Authority in November 2018 following a report by this newspaper.

Residents living near the Siggiewi bypass have complained of dust and noise from the plant.

Univest Ltd owner Jason Mifsud wants a permit for the regularisation of illegal offices, stores and a construction yard, as well as the construction of the batching plant on a 9,000sq.m site. Former environment minister George Pullicino is the project’s architect.

The plans foresee a sloped, landscaped area to screen the development from view.

In 2018, the Planning Authority ordered Univest to stop any further work and reinstate the field to its original state within 15 days of its notice, on pain of a daily fine.

While the site was given daily fine, the illegalities have not been removed.

The list of illegalities documented by the PA in 2018 included the excavation of soil, the demolition and removal of several boundary walls surrounding the site, the change of use from an agricultural site to one used for parking heavy construction vehicles, and the storage of steel rods used in the pre-fabrication of concrete.

Following the expiry of the 15-day period, a PA spokesperson revealed that a sanctioning application had been submitted. But the developer had not only applied to sanction the illegalities, but raised the stakes by applying for a full-blown batching plant. The application was later withdrawn with a new one being presented in 2020.

The application to regularise the illegalities effectively delays any enforcement action on the site.

The site has a long history of planning enforcements, while the owner’s attempts at regularising have always failed.

In 2004, an enforcement order was issued against a standing stonewall without permit and excavation works. But 18 years later the case is still listed as “pending direct action”. The PA had already refused an application to regularise these works in 2006.

In 2008, the PA issued another enforcement order against the “construction of a large warehouse, garages, stables and boundary walls without permit.” Yet the case is now listed as having been referred for “direct action vetting”. Owner Epiphanio Mifsud appealed the enforcement order, and the PA’s appeals tribunal rejected his appeal in 2011. Another application to sanction the illegalities was later dismissed by the PA and confirmed on appeal in 2013.

Indeed, rules introduced in 2011 had stopped allowing the PA to regularise development outside development zones that took place after 2008. But these rules were reversed in the new planning laws of 2014 – which means developers can still apply to sanction illegalities outside development zones.

Still, the conversion of agricultural land for industrial uses is not foreseen by the PA’s rural policy, making such an approval highly questionable.

In June 2020, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) formally objected to the sanctioning of illegalities on this site, warning that the development would result in significant take-up of nealry 10,000sq.m of undeveloped rural land, and the loss of traditional physical characteristics and features, so as to accommodate industrial-type development in the ODZ.

“The proposal would commit the site for industrial use and would result in degradation and other adverse impacts on the site and the wider site context. Such use is not considered to be compatible with the rural surroundings.”

According to ERA, industrial developments should be restricted to Industrial Areas or Areas of Containment so as to control and reduce proliferation of such developments in rural areas.