Planning Authority says no to 7,000 square metre cemetery

New policy banning new cemeteries in ODZ invoked to stop the renewal of a controversial permit issued in 2011 for the development of a church cemetery on virgin land falling within boundaries of the proposed White Rocks development

A church application for a new 960-grave cemetery in Pembroke has not been renewed by the Planning Authority
A church application for a new 960-grave cemetery in Pembroke has not been renewed by the Planning Authority

A church application for a new 960-grave cemetery in Pembroke, off Triq Sir Adrian Dingli, covering 7,000 square metres of agricultural land and originally approved in 2011, has not been renewed by the Planning Authority.

The renewal application for the new cemetery was submitted within the stipulated timeframe which normally enables developers to renew permits before these expire without facing any problems.  

In fact the site was already committed for this development through an ‘outline permit’ issued in 2005 and a full permit issued five years later.

But a new policy approved last year has banned the development of new cemeteries, but allowing extensions to existing cemeteries.

No works have been carried on the site and an application was presented to renew the permit just 10 days before the 2011 permit expired.

The case officer acknowledged that in cases of a permit renewal, previous permits should prevail over any subsequent changes in policy.  

But the case officer insisted that this principle applied only if a “commencement notice” indicating that works had already started on the site was sent to the authority. In the absence of such a “firm” commitment, the case officer concluded that the policy banning new cemeteries approved in 2015 prevailed over a permit issued four years earlier.

The Environment and Resources Authority had also objected against the take up of virgin undeveloped land.

The land identified for the cemetery formed part of the site earmarked for the White Rocks Project when it was proposed as a sports and residential complex in 2010.   

A planning control application to change the designation of the site from public open space to become part of the White Rocks Development brief area is still pending.  Since then the project has been revived as a luxury real estate development.

Cemetery saga

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority had originally refused the cemetery proposed by Pembroke parish priest Fr Anton Portelli in 2004 as this would have resulted in the loss of “well cultivated agriculture land” located outside development zones. 

But only a year later, MEPA found itself overturning this decision following an appeal presented by the church, and it issued an outline permit. 

The 2010 permit issued to Fr Joseph Sciberras was approved three months after the board postponed its decision to seek the advice of MEPA’s executive board because the cemetery was located outside development zones. The present local plan designates the area as a “public open space.” 

The cemetery itself already conflicted with the original local plan approved in 2006.

But the case officer’s report stated that MEPA had already been given legal advice that the outline permit issued in 2005 prevailed over the local plan issued a year later. 

Ironically back in 2006, the Malta Sports Council had informed MEPA that the BMX and IMRCC sports facilities were located next to the proposed cemetery. “The BMX and IMRCC generate considerable noise which could prove to be unacceptable to the relatives of the deceased persons or persons visiting the cemetery,” the council said. 

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