Labour mayor dubs planning permit for Bonnici Bros ODZ Burmarrad parking ‘obscene’

All board members vote in favour of sanctioning an illegally constructed basement car park for heavy vehicles along Triq is-Sardin in Burmarrad

The Bonnici Brothers work yard in Burmarrad (left) and St Paul's Bay mayor Alfred Grima (right)
The Bonnici Brothers work yard in Burmarrad (left) and St Paul's Bay mayor Alfred Grima (right)

"Approving this application would be an obscenity which sends a message that one can do whatever one likes, that one can build now and sanction later,” St Paul’s Bay mayor Alfred Grima warned the Planning Board before it approved an application to sanction an illegally developed 2,000sq.m basement parking for heavy vehicles on an ODZ site in Burmarrad belonging to Bonnici Brothers.

The permit was still approved after PA chairman Emmanuel Camilleri who himself admitted feeling “entirely uncomfortable” with issuing the permit, recommended the imposition of a planning gain which still has to be calculated.  

The sanctioning of the illegality was already subject to a €43,000 fine.

Alfred Grima, the mayor of the locality condemned the “insensitivity” of the Planning Authority in approving the sanctioning of illegal development in 2017.  

Alfred Grima
Alfred Grima

Grima was referring to a decision by the PA board to sanction the illegal storage facilities in 2017. The development was originally turned down in 2004 due to the negative impact on the scenic value of the area. Subsequently, an enforcement order was issued against the illegal change of use of land from agricultural to commercial, and the construction of warehouses without a permit. But an application to sanction the works presented in 2008, was approved nine years later despite a case officer report calling for an outright refusal. The justification for overturning the advice of the case officer was a permit issued in 1988, to enclose the perimeter of the site with an eight-course high masonry wall rather than a low rubble wall, seen as an indication that the site’s use of a storage area had been considered in the decision of that permit.

“It was this insensitivity which led to this application which will intensify the development in the area”.  He also lamented that Triq is-Sardin remained closed despite a permit condition when the application was sanctioned.  

He also warned that the development will increase the traffic of heavy vehicles increasing pressure in an area where infrastructure malta is even proposing a new roundabout.

The developers architect replied insisting that the 2017 permit is still incomplete and that the condition to open Triq is-Sardin will be enforced when the development is completed.  

PA board chairman Emmanuel Camilleri admitted that he was not so “comfortable” with the application to sanction development carried out without a permit  but insisted that the area is already committed for development by the previous permit.  

A recently issued case officer report has recommended approval in marked contrast with another report issued in November 2022 when a refusal was recommended.

The new report recommended approval because the application involves no additional take-up of ODZ land while the previous report had warned of an “intensification” of ODZ development on the site.

The application is proposing the regularisation of excavations at the basement level, the regularisation of an already constructed ‘partial basement level’ and the use of the basement level for the parking of heavy vehicles and machinery.

The Bonnici Brothers work yard in Burmarrad
The Bonnici Brothers work yard in Burmarrad

The site is outside the development zone of Burmarrad in St Paul’s Bay at Triq is-Sardin, corner with Triq San Gwanni Pawlu II. It lies just outside a buffer zone for the San Pawl Milqi chapel and catacombs found in the area.

The existing open storage facility covers 3,500sq.m with a 3.5m-high boundary wall enclosing it on Triq is-Sardin. Aerial photos from 1978 show the site completely free of development.

The storage area, close to the heritage site of San Pawl Milqi was only regularised in 2017 following an application to sanction the fait accompli in 2008. Plans approved in 2017 had already earmarked a 2540 sq.m parking area for heavy vehicles and machinery at ground floor level.

The report concluded that the sanctioning of the illegal works is acceptable since the works “will not result in any additional land uptake from that already covered by previous permits”.

The report refers to submitted drawings indicating that the proposed development would “not result in further urban sprawl outside the limits for development” and the development is being accommodated within an area already committed for such use in the permit sanctioning previous illegalities issued in 2017. According to the case office, the proposed development will result in the more efficient land use.