Tribunal waives €90,000 in fines on ‘petitions’ over planning infringements

Planning abuses are now having their hefty penalties waived thanks to controversial new rules intended at weakening enforcement notices and daily penalties

An illegal boathouse had its €12,000 fine reduced to just €1,000
An illegal boathouse had its €12,000 fine reduced to just €1,000

Enforcement notices tend to be the planning regulator’s final action to fix abuses carried out by planning infringements.  

But a controversial decision in 2015 to allow petitions asking for the reversal of these decisions, is now in full swing.  

So far, just 17 citizens have availed themselves of this controversial legal notice - issued without public consultation - which gives the Planning Authority’s appeals tribunal, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, the power to reduce hefty enforcement fines imposed on a daily basis. 

An Armier “squatter” who rebuilt his illegal wooden boathouse in stone - also illegally - after it was damaged in the freak incident of a kite-surfer who died after he crashed into its metal roof, had his staggering €12,650 fine reduced to a paltry €1,012.  

Not a bad deal. The legal notice states that the PA can consider written requests from persons served with daily fines to pay a “compromise fine” instead. The lowest daily fine is set at €2 and the highest is capped at €50 per day. Any such request must specify “the impelling reason” why the penalty established by law must not be paid as well as “the manner in which the fine” is to be changed.  

So far only 17 citizens have availed themselves of the controversial rules, with EPRT deciding on 15 cases, half of which took place only last Tuesday.  

Fines can be reduced on “humanitarian” grounds or because the fines are deemed to lack a sense of proportion when compared to the illegality in question.  

But unlike other decisions taken by the tribunal, deci 

sions in these cases are not uploaded on the Tribunal’s website. MaltaToday only became aware of these petitions upon seeing them listed on the tribunal’s agenda.  

A spokesperson for the tribunal said the website currently does not offer this facility but decisions regarding petitions can be physically collected from its office. A copy of decisions taken this week was sent to MaltaToday.  

In six cases the fines were substantially reduced. In total €102,910 in planning fines attributed to all seven planning infringements were reduced to €12,689. Only one petition involving the blatant illegality of constructing rooms and a swimming pool in the countryside, was entirely rejected.  

One of the cases involved the demolition and reconstruction of an illegal boathouse set on government land in Armier.  

The boathouse was originally built in wood and had suffered damage from an accident in 2007 in which a Bulgarian kite-surfer died after hitting the corrugated metal roof of the illegal boathouse. The boathouse was reconstructed in bricks seven years later.  

In 2014 the PA issued an enforcement order accompanied by daily fines which had accumulated to €12,650.  

The fine has now been reduced to €1,012 because according to the tribunal, the enforcement in question was against the reconstruction of the boathouse and not against the illegality of the original boathouse.  

In the petition the owner claimed that the boathouse was among the first cluster to be built in the area and was connected to the electricity grid by an officially sanctioned meter.  

The owner claims that he had not built the boathouse  

immediately after the incident, as like other boathouse owners he had been waiting for the results of discussions with government on the regularisation of the illegal boathouses.  

Two other cases which involved the reduction of fines were related to the laying of tables and chairs on pavements in Gzira and Valletta. The owner of the Black Gold establishment in Gzira was served with an enforcement order for illegally extending the pavement onto the public road. Although the illegality was later regularised by the Planning Authority, the permit could not be issued until the owner paid his accumulated daily fines which had reached the sum of €5,811. The Tribunal decided to reduce the fine to €1,937 in view of the fact that the pavement extension was limited to 14sq.m. Also benefitting from a €6,000 reduction in fine was Moos, a Turkish restaurant in Valletta, due to the relatively small area taken by the chairs and tables.  

The most substantial reduction was made to the benefit of the Mdina local council, which had been hit by an enforcement order after covering soil with gravel in part of Howard Gardens. The fine was reduced from a staggering €34,340 to €2,426 because the illegality did not result in any damage to the archaeologically protected site.  

Another substantial adjustment was made to a staggering €31,000 fine against a breach in height policies in Mellieha through the erection of a stairwell and an additional floor. The fine was reduced to €3,890 because the area involved amounted to less than 20sq.m.

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