Illegal boathouses can be legalized through rural policy

Planning Authority regularise illegal boathouse in Bahar ic-Caghaq by invoking the rural policy guidelines in 2014, which effectively regularise any structure constructed before 1978.

The boathouse regularized in Bahar ic-Caghaq
The boathouse regularized in Bahar ic-Caghaq

The Planning Authority has recently regularised an illegal boathouse in Bahar ic-Caghaq by invoking the rural policy guidelines approved in 2014, which effectively regularise any structure constructed before 1978.

Asked whether the rural policy applies to all illegal boathouses on the Maltese coastline, a PA spokesperson confirmed that “all the policies in the Rural Policy and Design Guidance refer to all applications located outside development zones (ODZ)”.

Most boathouses in localities such as Gnejna, San Tumas in Marsaskala and Armier were constructed before 1978 and are all located outside development zones.

But the PA spokesperson specified that this does not amount to a blanket rule to legalise any illegal structure on the coastline.

“As happens in all assessments there may be other policies and material considerations that have to be taken into consideration”, when assessing these applications.

MaltaToday had already raised this issue in September 2014.

Back then, when asked whether this policy effectively legalises all pre-1978 ODZ buildings, including boathouses along the coastline, the same MEPA spokesperson replied that this was not the case as the new document “must be seen in the context of the various policies included in it, most of which deal with a wide range of agricultural and rural developments”.

Back to the 1970s?

The Rural Policy Guidelines of 2014 define as “legally established” any building which is visible on aerial photographs dating back up to 1978.

A draft policy proposed in October 2013 had proposed that only buildings dating back further to 1967 should be considered as legally established. According to a MEPA spokesperson following the publication of the draft it was confirmed that the Authority does not have a full set of records prior to 1978. “This complete set only exists from 1978 onwards”.

This contrasted with guidelines found on the frequently asked questions found on MEPA’s own website, which stated that pre-1967 structures “should show on the 1967 aerial photos or, in the case of Gozo, on the 1957 aerial photos”.

One of the risks of this policy is that it can be invoked to regularise developments erected illegally in the 1970s – a period when the authorities were known to turn a blind eye to illegalities even if planning permits have been a requirement since the 1960s when Malta enacted its first planning regulations.

The Bahar ic-Caghaq boathouse

In December 2016, the Environment Planning Commission approved the sanctioning of a 36sq.m boathouse along the Bahar ic-Caghaq coastline. The boathouse is located in the vicinity of the Mediterraneo marine park.

The case officer concluded that the sanctioning of the boathouse could be favourably considered since the structure is visible in the 1978 aerial photos and hence is in line with the provisions of policy 6.2C of the Rural Design and Policy Guidance, 2014.

The boathouse was approved despite the objection of the Environment and Resources Authority.

The ERA claimed that aerial photos taken in 1967 indicate that the boathouse in question did not exist at that time and the only structure, which existed, was a perimeter wall.

Furthermore, from the photos submitted with this application, it appears that the building in question was being used as a holiday home in view of several domestic paraphernalia.

The ERA noted that the illegal development in question has resulted in the take-up of ODZ land and their shanty appearance is spoiling the rural and coastal character of the foreshore.

“Recommending such development would further create a precedent for the sanctioning of these third-party boathouses/structures,” the ERA concluded.

The case officer also imposed a condition to ensure that the original use of the building as a boathouse is retained.

The Government Property Division had informed the PA that it “finds no objection in principle to the proposed sanctioning of the existing boathouse” but as customary on all applications set on public land it retained the right to refuse a final clearance for any development approved on the site.