Victor Scerri’s Bahrija farmhouse on sale for €860,000

Controversial MEPA permit that led to environmental protest and PN president’s resignation, bears fruit with this handsome price tag

Four years later, it's on the market for €860,000
Four years later, it's on the market for €860,000

A farmhouse developed in the middle of the pristine Bahrija countryside and which provoked mass outrage by environmentalists, is up for sale: former PN president Victor Scerri is looking to make €860,000 on a building whose permits, a MEPA ombudsman had declared, should have never been issued.

Back in 2009, Scerri had resigned his political post after the negative public attention brought upon then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, and his re-election promise to clamp down on ODZ (outside development zone) construction.

 

Scerri had purchased the land from the Eliza Company Ltd, a group of landowners who had purchased the green pocket for €2.5 million from Salvatore Consoli-Palermo-Navarra, the Baron of Bahria. Farmers who had tilled the land for generations faced eviction. According to Scerri, his intention was to "rebuild [an] already existing in derelict form and most of all, take care of the area."

"I am not interested in swimming pools or any fancy villa. In fact I have consulted with agricultural experts on the possibility of cultivating an olive grove," he had told MaltaToday.

But as environmentalist Alan Deidun discovered, having posted the link from a realtor's advert on the Nature Trust Facebook page, MEPA's 2009 decision has led to the ultimate pay-off.

'Selling for the whopping sum of €860,000, this is the same farmhouse located literally a stone's throw away from the freshwater crab watercourse,' Deidun said on Facebook. 'No wonder the owner and his architect worked so hard for the permit which should have never been granted in the first place, way back in 2009'.

The house comes with a living, dining, kitchen space, two double bedrooms, a main bathroom and two large upstairs terraces. All rooms and terraces overlook five tumoli (approx 5,500 m2) of open farmland, with vines, olive trees and good agricultural land.

 

Development process

Scerri's wife submitted a MEPA application for an outline development permit "to reconstruct the existing structures with very minor alterations to facilitate use" in 2000. A case officer's report recommended a refusal of the permit in January 2001, and the then-Development Control Committee (DCC) refused permission in May 2001.

In July 2002, Scerri's architect proposed to completely demolish the derelict farmhouse, retain the stonework and rebuild the façade with original stonework. The DCC overturned the negative recommendation of the Planning Directive and approved the permit a month later.

A new development application for the demolition of the farmhouse was then filed in November 2002, but the case officer recommended refusal in December. The DCC overturned the recommendation, approving the application on condition that the architect submits declaration that instead of "demolition" Scerri engages in "rehabilitation".

By October 2003, the applicants submitted a new application to delete a condition in the permit, which said demolition should be kept to a "bare minimum", contradicting the scope of the permit to demolish and rebuild the farmhouse. In 2005, the DCC removes the condition.

Then in 2006, Scerri again asked to increase the building footprint from the previous application. MEPA's heritage watchdog, the Heritage Advisory Committee, demanded a more detailed method statement and that the footprint should not exceed the existing one. The environment protection department and the natural heritage panel also advised against increasing the footprint.

But while the case officer's report recommended refusal in 2007, the architect replied by quoting precedents when DCC approved extensions in ODZ areas. So in September 2007, the DCC approved the application.

Environmental groups stage a protest against the development on the site in Baħrija in 2009, while Scerri himself asked the authorities to investigate any irregularity on the works.

As it turns out, MEPA auditor Joe Falzon discovers that the last permit issued had been irregular. The controversy reaches then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, leading to the resignation of Scerri.

As it turns out however, the three preceding permits were still valid. By then, the site had already been excavated and the developer still had the permit to "rehabilitate" the existing dwelling, which had, by then, been demolished.

The development is in an outside development zone with high landscape value, and is of ecological and scientific importance, is a special area of conservation and a Natura 2000 site. The freshwater crab (qabru), which is in danger of extinction, the painted frog and the Bahrija bush-cricket, inhabit the area.

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Mela issa fejn ser jakkomodhom lill-klandestini li mar jiftah kawza il-qorti ghalihom, miskin dan l-avukat? Jew forsi ser jghaddilhom dawk il-profitti kollha li ser jghamel minn fuq, dak li kien qal, erba' kmamar f'ghalqa? Imbaghad in-nazzjonalisti jmorru jilaghbuha tal-paladini ta' l-ambjent wara li stupraw Malta w Ghawdex kollha. Ipokriti.
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Ma ninsewx li dan mhux l'ewwel kas. Minn ghandu ftit tazìzmien jiftakar kif kamra f'ghalqac inghatat minn bidwi ghax kien jiehu gost inemmes lill zewg mahbubin zaghzagh. Din il-kamra bid'daqqa yal bakketta magika tas- sahhara (mhux tal- Bidnija) saret villa. Veru li sa fgejn naf jien din ma inbietx.
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Send the demolition men, bulldoze the place down.
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U kemm ghadhom qalbhom perzuta ghall-ambjent dawn ta SimonPN! Din il-villa tal-bidwi hi simbolu ta l-ipokrezija kollha tal-PN fuq l-ambjent! Hemm xi cans li l-paladini tal-PN-dawk li jghidu huma ambjentalisti-jikkummentaw fuq dan l-izvregju f'dan il-wied uniku? Taw permess ghal blokka tal-Mistra, u issa iridu iwahlu fil-PL! Tajba ukoll! Hobla u tredda!
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Nothing has changed under this government. I am sure that the former DCC board members will be up for another appointment soon. They should instead be held to account for the irreparable damage they have done to the environment. Whilst the electorate has voted for change with a massive 37,000 majority, everything continues as if nothing has changed.
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Dan messu jara Simon u jghid li dizonest u mhux il budget.
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Caught with his pants down? I am sure he is not the only one fron GonziPN! Viva l-permessi bl-addocc li semma Simon Busutill il-bierah! Villa go nofs wied vergni?
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Surely if permits for this farmhouse and lands wete issued corruptly by the previous corrupt NP goverment, then the present PL government should put a compulsory order to buy from Mr. Scerri for a nominal sum, say for a few hundred Euros and return the land to the farmers who have been evicted from this land. Perhaps I am deluding myself to think this will happen as this Labour government have shown in its few months in power that it is not averse to corruption itself.
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How about that for honesty Dr Busuttil ? Remember that Dr Chircop was one of your candidates and Party President. He could not have chosen a worse time to put this farmhouse for sale. That is when you were clamouring for honesty!!!! .
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1. Buy piece of land in area where building is utterly prohibited with no exceptions; 2. Make a wish to your fairy godmother for building permits; 3. Profit!!
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"a living, dining, kitchen space, two double bedrooms, a main bathroom and two large upstairs terraces". Anyone looking for the "political patronage" characteristic within these described assets would be wasting his time. It is alleged that this was shot outta the sky sometime in March 2013.