Organisations file Court action against Legal Notice rewarding ODZ illegalities

Seven environmental NGos file a Court action against the recently introduced Legal Notice allowing the regularisation of ODZ illegalities

Seven environmental NGos have filed a Court action against the recently introduced Legal Notice allowing the regularisation of ODZ illegalities claiming that it is in breach of legislation giving third parties the right to appeal planning decisions, and of an EU directive requiring an environmental assessment of policies which have a direct impact on Natura 2000 sites.

The new regularisation scheme will enable owners of properties located at the edge of the development zone but which contain illegalities protruding into the ODZ to regularise their position.  The application applies to any illegality which cannot be regularised through existing planning policies. 

The legal notice does not state which illegalities can be regularised or not, except by saying that the sanctioned illegalities should not cause an “injury to amenity” thus giving full discretion to the regularisation board currently chaired by architect Elisabeth Ellul.

The NGOs claim that “policies which are supposed to prevent such development from being allowed” will now be overruled by a scheme allowing developers to regularise their illegal developments in exchange for “a paltry fine”.

The fines included in the legal notice range from €400 for unroofed illegalities in properties with an ODZ area of less than 25sq.m to € €1.2 million for roofed illegalities in properties with an ODZ area of more than 10,000sq.m.

One of the main concerns of the NGOs is that the legal notice includes no limit on the scale of ODZ illegalities that can be regularised.  Moreover, the scheme does not even preclude the regularisation of illegalities in Natura 2000 sites.

The strong opposition to this scheme expressed during the public consultation process last November was totally ignored without justification. 

The NGOs also made reference to a report by MaltaToday which revealed that the Environment and Resources Authority’s (ERA) had  concerns on the “potential” environmental impact of regularising illegalities in properties partly located outside the development zone.

But the Environment and Resources Authority refused to divulge the document containing its feedback on the regularisation scheme.

In their judicial protest, the organisations argue that the introduction of this Legal Notice is illegal since a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) was not carried out as required by an EU directive transposed in Maltese law. 

An SEA is a legal obligation whenever planned laws and policies are expected to have an impact on Natura 2000 sites.

Moreover, according to the NGOs the Legal Notice contradicts several laws, policies and conventions, such as Maltese planning law and the Aarhus Convention which establish the right of appeal for third parties. 

The seven organisations are determined to take forward their legal challenge to this shameful scheme. The Government-sponsored ravaging of our countryside has to stop.

The seven organisations challenging the regularisation scheme in the law courts are BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa,  Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Għawdix, Moviment Graffitti, the Ramblers Association and Wirt Għawdex.