Qala ODZ villa permit exposes rift between case officer and Planning Commission

A decision by the Planning Commission on whether to allow a 31sq.m dilapidated room in a Qala field to be turned into a full-blown 200sq.m villa has been postponed

The room in Qala which will be transformed in to villa
The room in Qala which will be transformed in to villa

A decision on whether to approve a controversial application to turn a 31sq.m dilapidated room in Qala into a full-blown 200sq.m villa has been postponed, exposing a rift between the Planning Commission and the Planning Directorate.

The decision was deferred to the 1 October after a legal representative for the developer requested a deferral “to scale down the proposed development”.

The application has been submitted on the basis of controversial 2014 policy but was initially recommended for refusal by the case officer.

However, instead of turning down the application, the Planning Commission, chaired by Elisabeth Ellul, indicated an intention to overturn the recommendation and approve the permit.

During today’s sitting the Commission, responding to a revised case officer report which still called for the refusal of the application, said that not approving the application “would not be consistent with the other decisions taken by the Planning Commission”, which is “adamant there is no infringement to the policy”.

The commission referred to 11 other similar decisions approved in the past months.

“The policy is what it is. It is not the remit of the Commission to change the approved policy but it us up to the legislator to decide any policy changes,” Ellul said. 

The Planning Directorate is insisting that the permit cannot be issued of aerial photos taken in 1978, which show that the building on the site already had no roof and therefore could not have been used as a residence.

It cited a court sentence which states that policy also requires that the use of a building must also be legally established in 1978.

Commission ‘concerned’ by case officer’s refusal

In a sitting held in July, the case officer was reprimanded by Ellul for recommending the application for refusal. She said the board was “very concerned that the Directorate recommended a refusal of this applications”.

While the case officer decried the lack of definitive proof that the building had been used as a residence in the past, the Commission insisted that the Directorate had not analysed the documents related to the residential status of the building well.

The policy that allowed the permit to be approved is the Rural Development Guidelines issued in 2014, which include a clause (Policy 6.2.A) that specifically allows the “rehabilitation and change of use of architectural historical or vernacular interest” and allows their transformation into dwellings.

The policy specifically allows the construction of a dwelling (even if the former use was not residential), provided the existing building to be converted has a minimum area 100sq.m.

In the Qala case, the proposal did not qualify for a new residential use because the internal floor area was 21sq.m.

But the same policy further specifies that a converted building can be used for a use that is already legally established.

Therefore, the developers presented a death certificate indicating that Grazia Mifsud was found dead in an unnumbered room in Ta’ Muxi in August 1921. 

The Times of Malta has today published a new document which shows Ms Mifsud lived in another house in central Qala. The document is from Qala’s Status Animarum – the parish archives – which has records of the village’s residents during that period. 

Environment Minister Jose Herrera had decreed last July’s decision by the Commission not to reject the application outright as “not on”. 

The Planning Authority is still in the process of reviewing its ODZ policies which led to the conversion of a number of countryside ruins in to full fledged villas over the past four years.

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