‘Build now, sanction later’ - Beach kiosks’ planning abuse ignored

24 illegalities in protected beaches reveal the gaping black hole of MEPA’s ‘enforcement’, James Debono says

Ray's Lido (Photo: Ray Attard)
Ray's Lido (Photo: Ray Attard)

There seems to be no end, or limit, to the scarring of the country’s natural heritage: a grand total of 24 kiosks, lidos and other commercial beach developments in protected zones are presently facing enforcement orders issued by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA).

These developments, which have mushroomed on Maltese beaches over the past three decades, cannot be legalised due to changes in planning laws made in 2010, which preclude MEPA from “sanctioning” any illegality on scheduled sites.

But those responsible for the illegalities are still enjoying the fruits of their brash labour, enriching themselves from the illegal developments they put up by exploiting the loopholes in the law.

Before 2010 planning applications were often presented to “sanction” illegalities on beaches. Although most of these applications were rejected, subsequent reconsiderations, court cases and appeals have delayed enforcement by decades. This is because MEPA cannot clamp down on illegalities until an appeal is decided.

Scheduled sites include historical buildings like coastal towers or sites which enjoy various degrees of protection because of their scientific or natural importance. These include popular beaches like Ghadira, Golden Bay, Paradise Bay and Ramla l-Hamra. 

Article 70 of the Environment and Development Planning Act enacted by the previous government in December 2010 prohibits MEPA from regularising any illegal developments on any scheduled property.

The sixth schedule of the Environment and Development Planning Act also bans MEPA from regularising any illegal extension to ODZ development if this was carried out after 2008.

This resulted in a situation where MEPA has no option but to remove any illegal beach development located in Malta’s main beaches, all of which are scheduled.

But the consultation document “For an efficient planning system” now proposes the deletion of the sixth schedule, which will be replaced by the imposition of daily fines.

This does not mean that MEPA will automatically legalise these developments. It only means that once again MEPA will be able to consider applications to regularise these developments.

Illegalities in ‘Paradise’

It was only a few months ago that the owners of the restaurant in the aptly named Paradise Bay were served with an enforcement order against the construction of an illegal canopy covering the restaurant’s terrace, the construction of a room being used as a kitchen and the creation of concrete paved areas used for the placing of sunbeds and umbrellas.

The enforcement order also refers to the levelling of pathways and the development of cladded boundary walls between sand level and concrete area.

A similar enforcement notice against concrete paving in the same site was issued in 1993. According to MEPA’s files this case is still, 20 years later, awaiting “direct action”.

Two applications to sanction illegalities on the same site were dismissed by MEPA in 2004. The owner has now appealed against this enforcement order, further extending this 20-year saga.

It was also this year that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority issued enforcement notices against highly visible development in the middle of popular Golden Bay in Mellieha. No previous attempt was made to sanction development on this site.

The enforcement order refers to “the construction and repeated extensions” of the Munchies kiosk which covers 465 square metres of a Grade 1 scheduled site. The owner has now appealed against the enforcement order, gaining valuable time as MEPA cannot remove the structure until a decision is handed down by the appeals tribunal.

The heavily patronised Ghadira bay is also the site of various illegal establishments. An enforcement order against the development of a concrete platform, wooden canopy, stairs and concrete ramp without permit was issued against the Adira lido in 2010. The enforcement has been pending for the past four years. No attempt has been made to regularise this development through a formal application.

Welcome to the ‘Wild West’

Ray's Lido, Armier
Ray's Lido, Armier

Armier, home to an entire illegal village consisting of hundreds of illegal beach rooms, most of them located on scheduled land, is also home to two illegal lidos.

An enforcement order against the Belmar lido was issued in 2006. The enforcement notice refers to the change of use of part of the beach into a private lido. An appeal was presented against the enforcement order but this was rejected three years later. 

Ray’s Lido, which lies just outside the scheduled area, is also subject to an enforcement order, which dates back to 2003.

The enforcement refers to the illegal development of a two-storey building and to two concrete platforms in the sea. An appeal against the enforcement order was rejected in 2006. In parallel to this appeal the owners also presented three applications to regularise the development, the latest of which was turned down in 2009.

Subsequently the owner applied for a reconsideration of this decision, which was turned down twice in 2011. But an appeal against this decision is still pending,

An enforcement order has also been issued against the illegal planting of palm trees on a scheduled property at Ramla tat-Torri.

Illegalities in Gozo

An enforcement order was also issued in 2012 against a kiosk built without a permit on scheduled land in Ramla l-Hamra in Gozo. An application to sanction the kiosk presented by the owner in 2009 was withdrawn by the Planning Directorate.

A kiosk in Hondoq ir-Rummien is also subject to an enforcement order issued by MEPA in 2000. Applications to regularise the kiosk and allow tables to be placed outside it was rejected in 1998 and 2000.

Similarly, an enforcement against a kiosk in Dahlet Qorrot, an area of ecological importance in Qala, has been pending for the past 10 years.

San Blas – the scene of the latest enforcement action by MEPA, is not new to illegal developments.

In 2010 MEPA issued an enforcement notice against a bamboo enclosure (in which bricks were being kept) and the construction of stairs leading to the beach. 

In 2009 MEPA issued an enforcement notice against a ‘structure’ serving as a kiosk for the hiring of deckchairs and umbrellas.

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