Polidano fined €100,000 for destruction of trees in Balzan project

Site earmarked for Balzan development was subject to an enforcement action, because back gardens had been cleared of all trees and that part of the same building was demolished.

Charles Polidano
Charles Polidano

Adds statement by Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar

Developers Polidano Bros. have been fined €100,000 for the destruction of trees during the construction of a 40-apartment residential block inside Balzan's village core, a court decreed today.

The project, whose developer is construction magnate Charles Polidano, had been rejected by the MEPA board in 2009 on the grounds that it would have resulted in overdevelopment of Balzan's open spaces, compromising the character and heritage of the urban conservation area of this traditional village.

But Polidano had already begun clearing the area before starting the project. In July 2011, MEPA issued an emergency conservation order over the site but no action was taken by Polidano, leaving the area in a dilipidated state.

Dr Reuben Farrugia, who lived near the scheduled property, told the court that the dilapidated house had been turned into a health hazard. "No one can walk near the building without the risk of being hit by falling material," he said.

Magistrate Anthony Vella said it would withold a prison sentence and instead issue a fine, €100,000, as close to the maximum at law as possible, ordering Polidano to abide by the conservation order imposed by MEPA.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) coordinator Astrid Vella said the NGO had alerted MEPA about the developer's abuse.

"We had informed MEPA that old and protected trees were being uprooted in the garden of the Palazz ta' Rohan. Enforcement officers from the Authority intervened on site and this saved the garden from a worse debacle," Vella said.

Expressing FAA's satisfaction at the court's decision, Vella said it was gratifying to see the case was decisively dealt with in court.

"One hopes other developers would think twice before destroying the environment by uprooting trees, defacing rubble walls and ignore conservation orders," she added.

Inspector Ramon Mercieca prosecuted. Lawyers Albert Zerafa and Robert Abela appeared on behalf of MEPA. Dr Reuben Farrugia appeared as parte civile while Dr Michael Schriha appeared for the accused.

The Balzan application was for 43 apartments, the restoration of two old houses, and an underground car park for 121 cars.

Specifically, Policy CG09 of the Central Malta Local Plan precludes the building of any new dwelling units in characteristic gardens in the Attard, Lija and Balzan area. It states clearly that "MEPA will not consider any development or redevelopment which create new independent residential and non residential units, including garages" in these open space enclaves.

The only exception to this rule is for development which puts dilapidated and unused buildings back in to use.

But the local plan states clearly that any new buildings should be physically attached to the main existing building.

The site earmarked for the Balzan development was also subject to an enforcement action, since the back gardens had been cleared of all trees and that part of the same building was demolished. The high garden walls were also breached to allow for the passage of heavy machinery.

Court action was taken by the Environmental Inspectorate for the felling of the scheduled trees.

MEPA's own Heritage Advisory Committee also deemed that the application could not be favourably considered.

Din L-Art Helwa had also objected claiming that at least one of the properties dates back to over 300 years ago and had been used by Grand Master De Rohan as his country residence.

The developers said they intended restoring the existing two buildings, the garden and the dovecot, apart from the villas, apartments, and the 121 underground car spaces. They argue that the project is an opportunity to demonstrate how large unused areas within a UCA can be redeveloped to fit into the existing urban setting by respecting the architectural and cultural heritage.

The only reference to the board's decision that the development conforms to the local plan is now found in the directorate's comments in the case officer report. MEPA has so far not replied why the board's comments were removed from the online details of the application.

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Pierre Sciberras
Fine and restore everything as it was... come on money no problem for Polidano!
Why not 100,000 Euro's a DAY until they comply with the order?
Why not 100,000 Euro's a DAY until they comply with the order?
cajetan schembri
A decade or so ago, a few weeks after tipper trucks above a certain gross weight became zero rated for registration tax purposes, twenty or so Merc trucks, like the one seen behind Mr Polidano, were bought by the company. A saving of more than several hundred thousand Euros. So he is still in the black!
justin spiteri
Good call. Not a negligible amount but not excessive either.
A 100,000 Euro Fine is a joke Palidano Bross. should be made to restore everything and replant the trees, they should also be made to look after the trees till they reach the same height as the ones they destroyed.
Paul Debono
Ah! Finally the courts woke up and started giving some serious fines which really and truly may start to deter abuses by the big boys, who think that they are above the law.

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