Wardija villa owner Sandro Chetcuti complains of noise from Bidnija shooting range

Villa owners complain of “grave molestation” because shooting at Bidnija range takes place “from sunrise to sunset” including weekends and public holidays

A group of villa owners in Wardija, amongst them the former president of the Malta  Developers Association, have been refused a warrant of prohibitory injunction to stop a nearby shooting range from operating, citing excessive noise levels.

But Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey rejected the request for an injunction filed on 13 June by former MDA head Sandro Chetcuti, together with entrepreneur Elizabeth Barbaro Sant, construction developer Francis Gauci and entrepreneur Franco Busuttil against the Malta Shooting Sport Federation and its senior representatives.

The plaintiffs, who all own villas in the Wardija-Bidnija area, had claimed that the MSSF were operating the range illegally because of the presence of structures they said were built without a permit. The noise generated by the range was causing them to suffer inconvenience and “grave molestation” they said, because shooting took place “from sunrise to sunset” including weekends and public holidays.

The plaintiffs exhibited a report drawn up by an engineer they had engaged for this purpose which purported to have detected average noise levels of 60db – 5 decibels over the legal limit. In some cases the noise exceeded 70db, they said.

On its part, MSSF pointed out that the ranges had been in constant operation since 1975, before any of the villas in question had even been built, and had played an important part in the development of Maltese Olympic shooting. The ranges had the necessary police licence, argued the Federation, and the unsanctioned works had consisted of road surfacing embellishments carried out in anticipation of the Small Nations Games, which through an oversight, the government had not paid the necessary guarantee to MEPA. Consultations with Sport Malta to address and remedy the issue were underway, it was added.

Claims of lead shot falling on the plaintiffs’ properties were lies, said the federation, adding that the lead shot would fall on nearby fields, the owners of which had an agreement with the federation, dating back years. A clean-up of these fields had recently been carried out by MSSF, it said.

In his decision on the matter, the judge stressed that a court’s decision to uphold or deny an application for an injunction did not mean that the right being protected had been proven or disproven, explaining that it was not the role of that court to decide the merits of the case. Injunctions were exceptional measures, and they could not be issued in cases where other remedies were available, said the judge.

While stressing that it was not condoning any illegal use or activities, the court observed that the possibility that the site on which the range was built might not be covered by a permit, or was operating outside the conditions of its police licence, did not mean that the injunction must be upheld.

“It does not appear to the Court that the alleged illegality is relevant to the determination of this warrant,” said the judge, adding however, that he felt morally obliged to send a copy of his decision to the Commissioner of Police and the Planning Authority for them to proceed further, should they see fit.

The judge observed that the engineer’s report submitted by the plaintiffs did not prove their allegations, even at first glance, pointing out that the testing had only been carried out at one of the properties in question, which happened to also be the closest to the range.

“Also it is true that the readings were taken on Saturday and Sunday, but with the possible exception of Saturday afternoon, they did not prove excessive noise was being generated during the hours intended for rest, as alleged in the application.”

Mr. Justice Spiteri Bailey reiterated that it should not be his court to decide this dispute between the parties using the special procedure of the prohibitory injunction.

In order to be valid at law, the argument about environmental damage had to have been raised by the owners of the fields in which the lead shot was falling, and not the plaintiffs, added the judge, also pointing out that there were other, better, forums in which to file such complaints.

Lawyer Massimo Vella assisted the plaintiffs. Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo appeared for MSSF.