St George’s Bay developer to pay €500,000 less to environment fund

Villa Rosa developer’s €623,000 planning gain is cut down to €116,000 after PA appeals tribunal finds planning board’s hike went beyond its prerogative

A planning gain of €623,325 has been slashed to just €116,187 in a decision that saw a Planning Authority policy being cut down by its own appeals tribunal.

A permit issued in February 2018 for office and commercial development along St George’s Bay stipulated that developer Anton Camilleri had to pay €623,325 to the Planning Authority’s fund for environmental and urban improvement projects in St Julian’s.

But following a decision taken last week by the PA’s appeals board – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) – Camilleri will be paying less than a fifth of the established sum.

The project would see the demolition of the Moynihan and Dolphin houses to erect offices over six floors, a nine-storey commercial development overlooking the beach, a low-rise hotel at Cresta Quay, a car park for 1,449 cars as well as the restoration of the historical Villa Rosa and the construction of bungalows in the valley watercourse area.

The planning gain imposed on Camilleri’s project was based on a formula multiplying each square metre earmarked for residential and commercial development (24,933 sq.m) by €25.

The PA board established the formula in August 2017 during the processing of an application for an additional five storeys on the 14 East tower in Gzira.

On that occasion board chairman Vince Cassar argued that “to ensure the new rate is applied to all future high-rise developments it should be stipulated as a fixed rate per square metre”.

A rate of €25 per square metre was proposed and approved. Subsequently the PA’s planning directorate started to base its formula for major projects, including low-rise ones, on this formula.

The same formula was used to establish the planning gain for other major projects, including the Farsons project in Mriehel and DB’s City Center project in St George’s Bay, the permit for which has since been revoked.

But in its decision the EPRT reverted back to a rate of €4.66 per square metre which applied to projects approved before August 2017.

In his appeal Camilleri argued that the imposition of the new planning gain created a situation of “inequity” between projects approved a few months before his project.

In its decision the EPRT concluded that the 400% increase in the planning gain constituted a very “radical” change which required a more “in-depth study”.

While acknowledging the prerogative of the board to impose a planning gain, the tribunal concluded that the radical change in the way the planning gain was calculated constituted a change in policy, which went beyond the prerogative of the PA board.

The developer will still be expected to give an extra €50,000 contribution to the artistic fund administered by the Arts Council as stipulated by the original permit.

More in Townscapes