[WATCH] Two-year ‘amnesty’ for minor planning illegalities launched

Parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri hails planning regularisation scheme as one that will allow people to sell their properties at higher values 

Parliamentary secretary for Deborah Schembri launches two-year amnesty for planning irregularities
Parliamentary secretary for Deborah Schembri launches two-year amnesty for planning irregularities
Two-year ‘amnesty’ for minor planning illegalities launched

A new scheme to regularise illegally constructed buildings was launched today, in what parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri hailed as a “unique turning point”.

The two-year scheme will only apply for buildings within development zones that appear on the Planning Authority’s aerial photographs for 2016, against a minimum €1,000 fee.

Unlike previous regularisation legal notices in 2012 and 2013, this scheme will not merely offer concessions but rather full planning permits.

Applications will be decided upon by an ad-hoc commission, chaired by PA deputy chairperson Martin Camilleri with architects Anton Camilleri and Aaron Abela as members. The commission will base their decisions on planning regulations and the advice of PA chief executive Johann Buttigieg.

Applications will be rejected if they constitute an “injury to amenity”, that is if they lose a risk to the comfort, convenience, safety, security and utility in its surroundings. 

The commission’s meetings will be public and details published online.

Deborah Schembri told the press at the Planning Commission boardroom that the scheme will benefit a significant chunk of the Maltese population, arguing that around three-quarters of the buildings on the island have some form of planning illegality.

“Many people are unable to sell their properties, because banks refuse to loan money to people who want to purchase houses with planning illegalities,” she said. “This means that some separated couples are forced to live under the same roof, and that cancer patients are unable to sell their houses to fund their chemotherapy treatment. Through this scheme, the value of their properties will rise significantly.”

“In an ideal world, our point of departure would be that all illegalities are wrong but we must be realistic. The problem is so large that if we were to knock down all the illegalities, the country would become unrecognizable.

“Had we not taken this decision now, then someone else would have had to take the same decision in the future, when there would have been more planning illegalities.”

“This is a one-time opportunity for property owners to regularise their positions, after which enforcement will become stricter,” she pledged. “From now on, action will be taken against people who break planning laws.”

Upon issuing a permit, the Planning Authority will maintain the right to impose any conditions it may deem fit, including the execution of specific works within a specified two-year timeframe. Failure to comply with the conditions will result in the permission being revoked.

Property owners whose applications are denied will be refunded 90% of their application fee.

People whose complaints to the authorities had led to property enforcement notices will be informed when a regularisation application has been filed, thus giving them a chance to object again.


What has changed?

At present, properties in a state of illegality and which lack a permit, cannot be sold, modified or redeveloped. This renders such buildings uninhabitable while also diminishing their commercial value. 

The planning amnesty through which owners can pay a fine for them to become legal, will allow them to put these properties back on the market.   

In February 2015 the Malta Environment and Planning Authority confirmed that it was considering a procedure through which owners of illegal developments carried out before January 2013 within development zones, and before 1994 in outside development zones (ODZ), could get a full permit after paying a hefty fine.

But the final version of the legal notice excludes ODZ development from regularisation. This decision could reflect increased awareness on ODZ development following the Zonqor controversy.

Existing legislation introduced by the previous government in 2012 and 2013 only allows owners to request MEPA to refrain from executing an enforcement notice on a number of minor illegalities already defined in the law. In the past three years, MEPA approved 4,006 requests to stop planning enforcements against minor illegalities, such as those being in breach of sanitary regulations due to discrepancies in the size of internal yards or back yards. But these buildings are still technically irregular and cannot be sold as any other legally permitted buildings.

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