DB ITS project will go ahead as judge rules against local councils, NGOs

A Court of Appeal has ruled against three local councils, eight NGOs and several Pembroke and Swieqi residents who fought against the DB project's approval on the ex-ITS site

Photo montage of the City Centre project proposed by the DB Group on the site of the former ITS in Pembroke
Photo montage of the City Centre project proposed by the DB Group on the site of the former ITS in Pembroke

The massive DB project on the ITS site in Pembroke looks set to go ahead in the form previously approved by the Planning Authority, after a judge ruled against local councils and NGOs who filed court challenges to the development.

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti handed down two decisions on Wednesday morning, ending a years-long battle by NGOs and residents to stop the development from moving forward.

The appeals, the first by residents and NGOs, including Moviment Graffitti, Din L-Art Helwa and Friends of the Earth Malta, against DB, the ERA and the PA , the second by the Pembroke St. Julians and Swieqi Local Councils, as well as the aforementioned NGOs and residents, had been filed filed after their objections were rejected by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal in December 2021.

Proposed in 2017, the plans for the site include the construction of a 386 room 5-star hotel rooms in a 12-storey hotel, as well as 179 residences housed in two towers, 17 and 18 storeys high. The plans also included office space, a shopping mall, restaurants and a car park.

Residents and NGOs have campaigned against the project for years, arguing that it will have a negative impact on both the environment and the quality of life of residents in neighbouring areas.

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, presiding the Court of Appeal in its inferior jurisdiction, rejected the appeal with costs this morning. 

The judgment states that the NGOs were correct in claiming that the EPRT tribunal was wrong to take the Hotel Height Limitation Adjustment Policy and FAR policy as a “subject plan,” that supersedes the applicable local plan, because the wording of both documents indicated that one was a policy and the other a policy guideline. 

However the judge went on to note that the NGO’s argument had not been about this, but about whether the ITS project had failed to follow the stipulations of the local plan itself. “These are not legal issues, but planning issues, which the Tribunal has addressed. Therefore this court cannot and should not address issues which extend beyond its legal powers.”

Lawyer Claire Bonello appeared for the appellants. Lawyers Ian Stafrace and Stefano Filletti represented DB group.

‘Sometimes they win, but we will always fight’

In reaction to the verdict, Moviment Graffitti said it was disappointed with the rejection and is considering other legal actions to stop the project from going forward.

“The responsibility of the obscene development, which wants to bury the residents of Pembroke under two towers of 17 and 18 floors, and a hotel of 12 floors, falls on the Government, which gave land of people to Silvio Debono, his authorities and planning policies.”

Meanwhile, the DB Group said it welcomes the verdict, "which brings an end to eight years of scrutiny by various courts, tribunals and authorities".

"This has been one of the most scrutinized projects in local history, and the truth has finally prevailed. We now look forward to delivering this world-class project."

The DB Group acquired the ITS site in a controversial land deal approved in February 2017 under the aegis of former minister Konrad Mizzi.

The initial plans for a 38-storey tower and a 17-storey hotel were first approved in a controversial sitting in 2018 during which a planning board member was brought over to Malta in a private jet to vote.

Residents have repeatedly expressed their alarm about the massive scale and disproportionate intensity of this development in a predominantly residential area and the expected spillover of Paceville into Pembroke as a result.