[WATCH] Robert Abela evasive on Żejtun villa: ‘I never interfered in PA process’

Robert Abela denies interfering in planning regularisation of villa he bought in Żejtun but avoids saying whether the process to buy the property started before or after the permit was issued

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela has denied interfering in the Planning Authority's decision to regularise a Żejtun villa, which he eventually bought three months later.

However, Abela failed to say whether the process to buy the villa started before or after the regularisation permit was issued to its previous owner.

Abela was at the time the chief lawyer to the Planning Authority when in April 2017, the PA’s planning commission approved owner Joseph Camilleri’s request to ‘regularise’ illegal alterations and additions to the dwelling.

The permit included no involvement of the PA’s legal office.

When responding to journalists on Monday, Abela categorically denied interfering in the PA's decision, but failed to say whether he started the process to buy the villa before or after the permit was issued. Instead, he diverted attention to a PA application filed by Opposition leader Bernard Grech, claiming that Grech had to regularise his property in 2019.

Abela acquired his Żejtun villa, a 2,200sq.m estate named ‘Ċinja’, just three months after it was regularised by the Planning Authority and freed from restrictions for its sale. The contract certifying the €600,000 property sale to Abela was signed on 10 July, 2017. 

The unauthorised works on the villa in Triq Xrobb l-Għaġin had been carried out before 1994 and then regularised by the PA’s planning commission in 2017.

The illegal extensions had doubled the size of the farmhouse to 352sq.m, when such ODZ (outside development zone) buildings could only be extended up to a maximum 200sq.m floor area.

The PA’s case officer, who recommended approval, recognised that the scale of the additions was the main issue with regularisation, given that the total floor area of the existing building exceeded the 200sq.m allowance. 

But the case officer justified approval, on the basis of a Rural Policy clause allowing extensions carried out before October 1994 to be regularised “if the extension does not visually dominate the existing dwelling” and if these are considered “acceptable in the wider landscape”.

Moreover the case officer also refers to “steel sheds” on an area of 440sq.m which were removed between 1994 and 1998, arguing their removal over 20 years ago to make way for landscaping, made the sanctioning of the illegally-built structures “acceptable”.

Since a store proposed for sanctioning was located at a lower level from the rest of the building, the case officer felt it did not visually dominate the site.