Planning Authority stops excavation for film water tank on ODZ land

The film company which had its proposal in 2015 for a shooting range scrapped has denied carrying out excavation works for a film tank in the same location

A film company that failed to clinch a shooting range concession in the rural limits of Mosta, has denied carrying out excavation works for a film tank in the same location.

ACT Europe – formerly U-Group Limited – had its proposal in 2015 for a shooting range scrapped after the company failed a due diligence process prior to governmental approval.

The company owns land adjacent to the site of the former army barracks, that was to be turned into a shooting range.

But it has denied started excavations for a 300sq.m water tank in the same location, without a Planning Authority permit.

The site was granted two development notification order (DNO) permits, one approved in December 2017 to allow “general filming activities” on the site.  The DNO application states the company’s intention to place a water tank on the site but does not specify the type of tank.

The second application was submitted in May 2018, requesting permission to “construct a water tank and ancillary cesspits including necessary excavation works”.

However, the Planning Authority website’s shows that the permit has not yet been approved: the public is still able to submit objections to the project until the 24 September.

When MaltaToday visited the the site last week it found land that had been disturbed by works.

ACT Europe’s Anastasia Budykho confirmed with MaltaToday that some works had started “two to three” months ago, but she insisted that it only involved clearing of the site and that the work was not done without a permit.

She said the work stopped three days after starting, because of a “misunderstanding” between the project’s architects and the Planning Authority.

Budykho is the CEO of the company formerly known as U-Group Limited – the same company behind plans to build a shooting range complex in the area. In May 2018, U-Group changed its name to AQ Films Limited. The company changed its name again last month to AQ Group Limited. AQ Group owns ACT Europe, the company in whose name the permit application was submitted.

Budykho stressed that any work carried out on the site was in accordance with the December 2017 DNO.

The permit application available on the Planning Authority’s website states that the planned “activities will focus on general filming activities, [and that] temporary compartments are required on site including [an] area for a water tank. All structures on site will be completely demountable and relocatable.”

In fact, while a site plan submitted with the application makes reference to a 20m x 10m water tank, but without any additional details as to its depth, leading one to believe that the tank would be placed on the ground, rather than dug into it.

The project’s architect Joseph Falzon echoed Budykho in stating that no excavation works had begun, stressing that the site had only been cleared “within the parameters of the DNO application”, and that the dug-out area could be refilled and restored to its former state once the permit expired.

But he denied that works had been stopped by the PA, pointing out that no enforcement notice had been issued. When pressed, Falzon said that the authority had requested a separate development application be submitted for the tank.

The Planning Authority confirmed with MaltaToday that the DNO granted consent for filming activities and did not permit excavation works.

"In March this year, the Authority received a report that excavations were being carried out on site. These works were stopped by the Authority on 21 March 2018," a spokesperson for the PA said, adding that a permit for excavations was subsequently submitted.

The PA said that an inspection had taken place on Friday 24 August to ensure that no more work had taken place. "Further action will be taken depending on the outcome of the planning application," the PA said.

Falzon stressed that the company had always followed the PA’s instructions and would only excavate down to the planned four metres if a permit is issued.

Budykho said the site had recently been put up for sale and that while the company’s original intention had been to build a film water tank, it had now lost interest in the project and was seeking the permit to build a reservoir to be used for agricultural purposes by any prospective buyer. The planning application, however, still refers to a water tank with no mention of agriculture.

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