Prime Minister’s application to rebuild ODZ villa set for approval

Case officer concludes that proposal represents 'improvement' over present situation as it consolidates development over smaller footprint

The Prime Minister’s application to replace an existing one-storey villa outside the development boundaries in Żejtun for his brand new two-storey villa, is heading for approval after a case officer concluded the plans were in line with the Planning Authority’s rural policy.

The policy allows the replacement of existing structures only if the existing floor area is not exceeded and the original building had a permit. Robert and Lydia Abela bought the villa in July 2017 from an elderly couple, days after the PA had sanctioned multiple illegalities on the site. The Abelas bought the sprawling villa Ċinja at an ostensible bargain at €600,000, with the illegal extensions that were green-lit by the planning regulator in 2017 doubling the size of the farmhouse to 354sq.m.

A final decision on the new plans will be taken by the PA’s planning commission on 15 February.

The existing building includes a number of scattered structures such as a garage, stores and animal enclosures (91 sq.m) located in different parts of the site, which will all be demolished.

The new proposal concentrates the villa on a 237sq.m footprint with an overlying storey, bringing total floor area to 445sq.m but contained over the smaller footprint.

A new basement does not get to be included in the calculation of the replacement building’s total floor area according to PA rules. Solar panels are also expected to be installed on the villa roof.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) found no objection to the proposal from an environmental point while the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) did not object, subject to archeological monitoring during the works which include the excavation of the basement and a pool.

The ODZ site is at Triq Xrobb l-Għaġin in Żejtun in a buffer zone to the Class A Site of Archaeological Importance of Ħal-Ġinwim which includes the remains of a prehistoric structure consisting of a few ashlar blocks, found in the beginning of the 20th century in the vicinity of the San Niklaw chapel.

Illegal works carried out before 1994

The PM’s latest application was facilitated by the 2017 permit issued to the previous owner which sanctioned unauthorised works on the villa carried out before 1994.

The illegal extensions had doubled the size of the farmhouse to 352sq.m, when such ODZ (outside development zone) buildings could only be extended up to a maximum 200sq.m floor area.

The PA’s case officer, who recommended approval, recognised that the scale of the additions was the main issue with regularisation, given that the total floor area of the existing building exceeded the 200sq.m allowance.

But the case officer justified approval, on the basis of a Rural Policy clause allowing extensions carried out before October 1994 to be regularised “if the extension does not visually dominate the existing dwelling” and if these are considered “acceptable in the wider landscape”.

Moreover, the case officer also referred to “steel sheds” on an area of 440sq.m which were removed between 1994 and 1998, arguing their removal over 20 years ago to make way for landscaping, made the sanctioning of the other illegally-built structures “acceptable”. As often happens in similar cases involving ODZ dwellings, the favourable recommendation was based on an interpretation of conflicting policies by the case officer.