Planning minister refuses to apologise to Kamra tal-Periti over scheme rollout blunder

Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi calls out chamber for their limited contribution during consultation process for the Irrestawra Darek scheme  

Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi
Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi

Updated at 5:34pm with Kamra tal-Periti statement

Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi has refused to apologise to Kamra tal-Periti over the controversial rollout of the Irrestawra Darek scheme.

Zrinzo Azzopardi also pointed out the limited contribution made by the chamber during the submission stage.

“The only thing the Kamra tal-Periti (KTP) president asked to be changed was the time when the scheme is rolled out. He only requested we change it from 8am to noon,” Zrinzo Azzopardi told journalists on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the online application platform, which opened at noon, buckled under the immense surge of users vying to submit their applications, causing it to crash within seconds.

Later in the afternoon, KTP labelled the entire system as a "farce", insisting the Planning Authority apologise. They said the much-anticipated launch of the Irrestawra Darek scheme resulted in frustration and disappointment for architects and their clients.

Addressing the KTP’s concerns on Wednesday, Zrinzo Azzopardi clarified that the chamber had initially agreed to a "first come first serve" approach and made no further submissions regarding the scheme's mechanism.

Acknowledging the overwhelming response from applicants, Minister Azzopardi explained that the scheme had to be closed due to an unprecedented level of interest.

Questioned whether the website was designed to handle such high levels of traffic, he said it had previously efficiently handled a high influx of applications without any issues.

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, also said that the planning authority is considering the feasibility of another plan to finance the restoration of historic house facades. 

The minister confirmed that he spoke to the PA chairman, since these were funds derived from planning applications, to see whether the authority could identify other funds to issue a similar scheme.

Kamra tal-Periti reacts to Zrinzo Azzopardi's comments

In a press statement, il-Kamra tal-Periti pointed out that in none of the consultation meetings held with the Planning Authority nor with the Minister was the Irrestawra Darek scheme ever brought up.

“The first Council members heard of the scheme was on 19 May at 3.30pm; the day the scheme conditions were communicated to all architects via email,” KPT said.

The chamber said it saw this timing as intentionally conflicting with a seminar organised by the Kamra on the effects of a landmark judgement annulling a permit on a site in Santa Luċija, to which the PA was also invited.

KPT explained how it raised its concerns with both the Minister and the Executive Chairperson and asked for the opening to be shifted by a day or at least moved to 2pm.

“The Minister’s response was that he was only willing to shift the opening to 12pm. However, we never got direct confirmation of this shift until Monday, when an email sent out to all architects confirmed the change in time – causing a general scramble across the profession and in the organisation of the seminar.”

The chamber also expressed regret over the lack of a proper handover from former ministers and planning authority officials to the current administration. 

This oversight, it argued, could have averted the current debacle in this year's edition of the scheme. 

KPT had previously provided recommendations to former Ministers for Planning Ian Borg and Aaron Farrugia, former PA Board Chairperson Perit Vince Cassar, and former Executive Chairpersons Johann Buttiġieġ and Martin Saliba, among others, regarding the 2019 edition. 

“Unfortunately, these recommendations were not integrated into the current scheme conditions.”

Despite the challenges faced, the chamber still welcomed the Minister's consideration of reopening the scheme after taking their recommendations into account.