Gozo developer Joseph Portelli renounces controversial Qala ruins permit following outrage

Gozo developer Joseph Portelli hits out at PA treatment of his project application but declares he will voluntarily renounce permit with immediate effect

The Qala countryside ruins that will be turned into a villa with pool
The Qala countryside ruins that will be turned into a villa with pool

The company J Portelli Projects has announced it is voluntarily renouncing a controversial permit awarded to it for a villa on pristine land in Qala.

A company spokesperson said owner Joseph Portelli, who owns the land, was renouncing the permit “with immediate effect” but claimed his company’s application had been singled out by the Planning Authority and the media “for some odd reason”.

The decision to award the permit to redevelop a countryside ruin into a villa with swimming pool was carried by the vote of government-appointed members on the Planning Authority board despite the planning directorate’s recommendation for refusal.

The company insisted it had carried out extensive research which confirmed that the property was used as a residence in the past – a precondition under the 2014 rural policy guidelines that allows ruins outside development zones to be turned into habitations.

“Tens if not hundreds of cases have been approved by the authority. Some of these applications were granted permits for the erection of residences on sites which merely consisted of foundations of previous buildings,” the company spokesperson said.

“In our case we believed that the building that still exists on site merited restoration and made a request to add extensions to it. We also agreed to amend the plans and further reduce the extension, which extension is limited to additions attached to and linked to the current building.”

The company however claims the PA had gone to lengths to put the Portelli project under extensive scrutiny, by sending case officers to make their submissions at the sitting of the PA’s planning commission, “something the authority has not done in any case over the last six years. The case was also requested to be undelegated and heard before the planning board.”

“We never demanded any favours from the Authority. Yet we would never accept to be treated differently from others. The Authority must ensure that its policies are clear in their application are applied in an indiscriminate manner. Having said that, we are taking the decision to voluntarily renounce this permit with immediate effect.”

In a reaction, independent candidate Arnold Cassola said that the Planning Authority was duty bound to revoke the permit. “If the PA does not revoke it, the permit remains legally valid. So please, next Monday, the first thing the Planning Authority should do is revoking the permit.”

In an earlier comment today by the Qala local council, mayor Paul Buttigieg indicated his council would be a party to the appeal on the decision.

“We are voicing our shock and vociferous objection to the PA’s decision where a dilapidated ruin – practically a mound of stones – was given permission to become a villa with a swimming pool. The site in question is one of high landscape value and of great ecological and rural value. All applicable laws and policies militate against such a permit being issued. ENGOs objected to this insensitive and extensive project. Every expert consultative body objected to this project. Yet the votes of seven board members were enough to neutralise all objections and expert opinion. The Qala Local Council will not allow any form of intimidation to stop it doing what is right and necessary in the protection of our country and is declaring that it will be a party to the appeal which will be filed.”

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