Qala countryside villa development decision taken away from Elizabeth Ellul’s hands

The decision on a controversial application for a villa in Qala’s pristine countryside will now be taken by the planning board and not the commission chaired by architect Elizabeth Ellul

The room in Qala that applicants want to turn into a villa: Elizabeth Ellul has insisted the permit should be issued because it conforms to policy, despite a recommendation for refusal
The room in Qala that applicants want to turn into a villa: Elizabeth Ellul has insisted the permit should be issued because it conforms to policy, despite a recommendation for refusal

The decision on a proposed countryside villa in Qala will be taken by the planning board and not by the Environment and Planning Commission chaired by Elizabeth Ellul.

The decision to delegate the application to the higher board, which is more susceptible to public scrutiny, suggests the permit will be rejected, according to a source at the Planning Authority.

The final decision will be taken on 31 October.

Ellul had clashed with the planning directorate, which was opposing the development application by construction magnate Joseph Portelli.

Moreover, Ellul has been accused of a conflict of interest after it was revealed that her husband is the architect responsible for the multi-million CryptoTower project in Paceville being developed by Portelli.

Ellul has always declared her conflict of interest when members of her family appeared in front of her. However, in this case she saw no conflict of interest, claiming she does not know who the clients of her family’s firm are.

Ellul is a member of the planning board but while decisions in the commission are taken by three persons, the overarching board includes 12 members.

Ellul has consistently argued that the Qala development conforms to the rural policy, despite a recommendation for refusal by the case officer.

The latest plans are listed on the PA’s public information website as “recommended for approval”. But a PA source explained that this is standard procedure when the Planning Commission expresses an intention of overturning the case officer’s original recommendation.

Revised drawings submitted by the applicant indicate a proposed 115sq.m ground floor and an underlying 60sq.m basement. A 40sq.m pool is also being proposed but its location has shifted to a field at a higher level, so that it is less visible from the street. 

The property comprises 4,700sq.m of disused farmland in an idyllic setting with unobstructed views, and was purchased by Excel Investments, a company owned by construction magnate Joseph Portelli, last January. 

The Qala saga

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

Instead of turning down the application, Ellul’s commission indicated an intention to overturn the recommendation and approve the permit. 

In August, the commission responded to a revised case officer report which still called for the refusal of the application, saying 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 because 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 July, the case officer was reprimanded by Ellul for recommending the application for refusal, saying 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 includes 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. 

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