Appeals board overturns refusal of villas in historical Lija grove

nvironment and Planning Review Tribunal has paved the way for the construction of four semi-detached villas in Lija

A depiction of the proposed semi detached villas
A depiction of the proposed semi detached villas

The Planning Authority’s appeals board (Environment and Planning Review Tribunal) has paved the way for the construction of four semi-detached villas near the Tal-Mirakli windmill in Triq Annibale Preca in Lija.  

The development had been rejected by the PA board, chaired by Vince Cassar in 2015, because it would result in the loss of a substantial part of the existing orange grove and because of its impact on the adjacent windmill – which will be preserved.  

The PA claimed that this development would have eliminated a “green lung” for the area.

The grove where development will take place
The grove where development will take place

Cassar himself had voiced objections to the proposal, arguing that the development could only be permitted if planning policies were “twisted”. 

On that occasion the PA board voted unanimously against the development.

The development was also deemed to defy a PA circular which precludes any development extending further than 30 metres into back gardens.

But in its sentence, the EPRT chaired by Martin Saliba, concluded that this planning rule applied to green lungs in densely developed urban areas, and not to what it described was a villa area characterised by low-density development.

The tribunal also remarked that only 40% of the site would be developed and that enough space would remain undeveloped between the houses and the windmill to protect its setting.  

The EPRT rebutted objector Roderick Chalmers’s (former Bank of Valletta chairman) claim that the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had been misled by photomontages that omitted structures being proposed on the roof of the development, when it gave its blessing to the development.  

The tribunal argued that the Superintendence also had access to plans showing this development, and that the roof structures were reclined and not visible from the particular angle shown in the photomontage.   

While ordering the PA to revoke its earlier refusal, the tribunal ordered the developer to present new plans to include a 3m-wide front garden adjacent to an alley.

The development is being proposed by entrepreneur Keith Attard Portughes. The developers are committed to replant the trees uprooted from the grove.

Roderick Chalmes claimed that the Superintedence for Cultural Heritage had been misled by photomtages that omitted structures being proposed on the roof of the development
Roderick Chalmes claimed that the Superintedence for Cultural Heritage had been misled by photomtages that omitted structures being proposed on the roof of the development

The appeals tribunal is composed of planner Martin Saliba, Labour candidate Simon Micallef Stafrace and Malta Freeport chairman and political appointee Robert Sarsero. The EPRT has the final say on development applications on which an appeal has been presented. The same board will be taking a decision on the pending appeal against the Townsquare high-rise development in Sliema and a proposed old people’s home in a quarry in San Gwann’s Wied Ghomor.

Tribunal approves stables refused in 2011 and 2006

In another controversial decision the same board also approved the construction of five stables and paddocks over 350 square metres in Rabat’s Lunzjata area. It also sanctioned a hay store and 295 square metre track that had been illegally developed.

A previous application presented by another applicant in the same area for the construction of two stables had already been twice refused in 2005 and 2006; the present application was refused in 2011.

The area is designated by local plans as being of “agricultural  value” even it is in a degraded state due to vehicular access to the area.

Applicant Cristinu Cassar owns five horses that take part in races at Marsa. He has argued that the countryside track is necessary for safety reasons, to keep horses away from village streets. He also said the degraded site would be environmentally improved since it will be used to grow fodder for horses.

Originally in its refusal, the Planning Authority said the development would not contribute to the environmental improvement in the area as required by a policy regulating the development of stables in the countryside.

But the EPRT insisted that the site has been in a degraded state since the late 1980s and that Cassar, who bought the land in 2001, was not to blame for previous illegalities – it therefore concluded that the development would improve the degraded environment in the area.

In this case the tribunal was composed by Saliba, lawyer Andy Ellul and architect Ludovico Micallef.

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