‘Magic wand’ treatment at Planning Authority turns Gozo rabbitry into villa

Controversial permits issued in 1999, 2014, 2018 and 2019 pave way for a villa with pool in a pristine location of Gozo

The picturesque area in Gozo’s Zebbug, known as ta’ Tutiet, is not only outside development zones but protected for its ecological importance and its high landscape value.

Yet this did not stop the Planning Authority from issuing a permit for a villa on this site thanks to its largesse on planning policies.

It all started in August 1999 when the Planning Authority, acting against the advice of its own case officer, issued a permit for a rabbitry to the site’s now former owner, Victor Zammit. A similar application had already been rejected in 1996.

Subsequently, the PA issued an enforcement order after additional structures were built over and above what was allowed in the permit issued in 1999.

In 2012, Marcin Depczynski on behalf of Zebbug Farm Ltd, applied to demolish the partly illegal rabbit farm to turn it into a 200sq.m dwelling.

According to a declaration made by the Veterinary Regulation Department (VRD) in 2013, the farm had stopped housing any animals since 2012, was no longer operational and did not have an active license.

And while the former owner had been registered as a breeder since 1995, neither Zebbug Farm Ltd nor Depczynski were registered as animal keepers.

However, the new villa replacing the animal farm was approved in 2014, despite a clear recommendation by the PA’s case officer to refuse it.

The permit was issued in spite of a 2008 policy that was still applicable at the time, which banned the conversion of farm buildings into dwellings in Areas of High Landscape Value and within Areas of Ecological Importance, just like this one.

A declaration by the VRD in August 2014 deemed the farm structure, now referred to as a sheep farm, to be “not usable” for animal husbandry and that its re-utilisation would require the reconstruction of the farm in a way that would result in an “eyesore.”

When the permit was issued, the applicant was told to drop a proposed swimming pool, as this was not permitted by policies which prevailed at the time.

But a permit for a 75sq.m swimming pool was eventually issued in 2016, thanks to the new rules in the 2014 rural policy, which allowed such swimming pools outside the development zones within the curtilage of existing buildings.

Then in 2018 a new permit was issued for a drive-in finished in compacted earth, to provide access for the approved residence. This included three parking spaces.

Once again, the case officer recommended a refusal after investigations revealed that a rubble wall along the country road had been completely redeveloped in masonry stone.

But the PA’s planning commission still approved the application, by sanctioning this irregularity.

The applicant was asked to plant three more trees over and above the 21 trees included in a landscaping plan approved in 2014.

The rabbitry had by now been entirely demolished, giving a clear glimpse of the views which will be enjoyed by the new villa, which is yet be constructed. Only a few days ago the Planning Authority issued a ‘renewal’ for this permit, which was due to expire later on this year.

Yet the case officer’s report recommending approval this time, made no reference to the new policies which came in place after 2014, namely the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development, which includes a clear commitment to safeguard rural areas.

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