MEPA chairman defies NGOs’ call to resign

‘There is no reason at all for us to resign’ says MEPA chairman Vince Cassar over green lobby’s demands after ombudsman report on Mistra

MEPA chairman Vince Cassar
MEPA chairman Vince Cassar

Green NGOs yesterday insisted that the environmental ombudsman's report on the Mistra Heights development, a 770-apartment development atop the Mistra Ridge, confirmed that the outline permit issued in 2008 was not cast in stone and could have been "revoked and challenged".

Flimkien ghal-Ambjent Ahjar coordinator Astrid Vella and veteran environmentalist Edward Mallia yesterday followed up on calls by Alternattiva Demokratika, saying the MEPA board and chairman Vince Cassar had to tender their resignation.

Environment and Planning Commissioner David Pace said the MEPA board did not have its hands tied by the previous permit issued in 2008 and concluded that the original outline permit could have been revoked.

Moreover, the ombudsman said that the current MEPA board chaired by chairman Vince Cassar was in breach of the law when it met in a private session, to discuss the request to revoke the original permit issued for Mistra Heights in 2008.

He said secretive meetings were ruled out by Article 6 of the Environment and Planning Act which states that "meetings of the Authority shall be open to the public". Although the law permits the board to deliberate in private, any vote has to be conducted in public.

Vella and Mallia subscribed to Alternattiva Demokratika's call for the resignation of the MEPA board and said that whoever was responsible for the decision not to revoke the permit behind closed doors, should shoulder responsibility.

However, MEPA chairman Vince Cassar said there was absolutely no reason for him and the rest of the board members to resign. "There is no reason at all for us to resign," Cassar told MaltaToday, insisting that the authority's board acted correctly in granting a full development permit for the Mistra project.

Asked to comment on the ombudsman's conclusion that the board acted illegally when it decided against the revocation of the outline permit behind closed doors, Cassar said that the MEPA board was still evaluating Pace's report and would issue its reaction in due time.

On its part, MEPA itself said that it was duty bound to follow in principle the planning rights granted through an outline planning permission. "The Environment and Planning Commissioner incorrectly arrived at a conclusion that the conditions of the outline permission were somehow cast in stone. The outline permission sets out the planning parameters, which are further expounded in the full development application. In this case, there was no marked departure from the principle of development."

MEPA claimed that the Environment Impact Assessment was a very thorough on, and that the law cited by the Commissioner requiring the authority's meetings to be held in public did not apply at the stage where it was considering whether to start the procedure for a revocation of a permission. "It only applies in the case of planning applications and planning control applications. There is a different and particular section of the law which regulates the special procedure for the revocation of a permit, which was duly followed.

"In this case, the authority used the identical procedure which has been used in similar cases throughout the years under different MEPA boards. The correctness and legality of this procedure was never questioned, nor challenged."

Mistra decision 'obscene'

Describing MEPA's decision to grant permission to the construction of 774 apartments on the former Mistra Village site as "obscene," Astrid Vella said that the ombudsman's report proved the green lobby's resistance to the project had been justified.

Following the approval, the parliamentary secretary for planning Michael Farrugia claimed that had MEPA refused to issue permits for 774 apartments on the former Mistra Village, it would have resulted in government paying the applicant up to €70 million in damages.

However, Edward Mallia said that the parliamentary secretary was "shooting from the hip" and said that such claims were ludicrous.

Vella insisted that in his report, the ombudsman had highlighted a number shortcomings in the outline permit and this confirmed that the MEPA board had "every right and reason to deny the permit".

She explained that the full development permit issued by MEPA was based on the Floor Area Ratio policy, which has never been ratified.

Describing it as a "malicious" decision, Mallia said that the Mistra project, which will drastically alter the landscape, was based on a policy which was never ratified - the floor area ratio policy, which rationalized the footprint of a development to compensate for a height that goes beyond local plan limits.

While not excluding the possibility of challenging the full development permit on legal grounds, Vella said that an appeal could still be lodged at MEPA.

Mallia said that the Pace report compared the Mistra development with that of the revoked permit for the 'Spin Valley" discotheque on land owned by former MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando in Mistra.

"The same should have applied to this mega project on the Xemxija ridge," Mallia said.

I am sorry to say but where was the Environmental Ombudsman all this time when so much environmental abuses have been perpetrated by the previous GONZIPN. Please please tell me where was he then? Or is it that now that his party lost the election it is all right for him to stamp his feet to blacken the new Government. Am I right to assume that an Ombudsman should be impartial in his judgement? Am I right that he should be above party politics? So what is the difference now as opposed to just 7 months ago when our environment was being polluted by the BWSE heavy fuel power station and by the oil scandal. Why did he not speak out against the desecration of Bahrija and the villa / farmhouse that has now just been sold at phenomenal prices. Please please I cannot understand the logic of these inconsistences.
Get your head out of the sand Mr. Chairman. You held a meeting behind closed doors (which is illegal as per the very law which governs MEPA) and in this secret meeting a highly controversial decision was taken. Why behind closed doors? There is a reason why meetings have to be public. Thank you to the NGO's which are helping Malta step into the 21st. century. Please, please, please keep up the good work.
Abdullah alhrbi
Edward Mallia's constancy with regards environmental issues is commendable. He is blessed with the ability to call a spade a spade. This is the citizen who should top the Gieh ir-Repubblika honours list dear PM. Faulty logic does seem to rule the Mepa board, is it there to do its purported job or simply a rubber stamp for the latest ' developers' feeding frenzy?
I am against this Mistra monstrous project. It is too high and too big. It should have been projected on similar ideas to what there was before. Having said this, yesterday on Times Talk, PS Dr M.Farrugia explained clearly the sequence of events that led to this outrage. Blame it all and fully on GonziPN! All legal (and financial) aspects of this permit were well engineered and water tight before the final decision was taken; and this many, many months/years back. So much so, that the foreign developer was well defended by none other than the PN's President, in order to ensure that the legal/financial noose is well and truly tight!