Planning Authority hindering access to planning documents

Public none the wiser after PA decides to restrict documents on applications it claims are ‘incomplete’

The PA is restricting public access to documents related to applications which had been available up until a few days ago
The PA is restricting public access to documents related to applications which had been available up until a few days ago

The Planning Authority has restricted public access to documents related to applications which had been publicly available only until a few days ago.

Searching for documents related to the controversial American University of Malta campus at Zonqor, or the 40-storey high-rise proposed in Sliema, will greet users with a surprise: they have all disappeared from the PA’s public information system, with a notice that the applications in question are “incomplete”.

Newspapers like MaltaToday fulfil a public information service by tracking new applications as soon as these are published on the PA’s website.

But now a number of older applications, including a number of controversial ones which this newspaper regularly tracks to check whether new plans have been presented, have also gone missing from the public information system.

These include the application for the proposed Zonqor university campus which dates back to 2017, for which the latest plans were submitted in December 2018, and documents related to the 40-storey tower hotel proposed at Fort Cambridge which has already been submitted to an Environment Impact Assessment.

More recent applications which have gone missing from the new system include that related to the construction of a new wing for the Excelsior Hotel in Floriana presented last year; the proposed 22-storey high-rise next to Mercury House; a proposed 12-storey development in Xghajra; the 13-storey high-rise proposed by developer Joseph Portelli in Qormi; and the proposed road passing through the Mgarr harbour woodland in Gozo submitted last month.

A number of Planning Control applications have also gone missing.

These include a zoning application presented by business group Fino for residential and commercial development on the site of Pembroke’s Australia Hall, which was presented last year, and the more recent application related to the Westin Hotel’s expansion near the St Julian’s coastline.

Curiously, while information related to these major projects is no longer available, documents related to a number of minor applications which are still at “vetting and plotting stage” can still be viewed.   

The PA has cited ‘legal reasons’ to justify these changes through which documents related to these documents will only be made available to the public when an “application form is fully filled, all documentation required has been fully submitted and payment for the same has been fully effected”.

The PA spokesperson explained that it is only at this point, that the Authority “is legally bound” to make public the application by publishing them on the Department of Information website, the Government Gazette and by affixing a site notice on site. “This is the stage when an application should be made available to the general public, including on eApps for public viewing.”

This will effectively mean that the public will only be alerted to applications at a later stage than at present.

In fact, a number of the removed applications had already been assessed by official bodies like the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

When asked about documentation related to specific applications presented as far back as 2016 which are no longer accessible to the public, the PA spokesperson replied that although these had been given a number, they were not given final validation. Some applications like that envisaging a 40-storey tower hotel on Sliema’s Fort Cambridge were still categorised as being at “screening stage”, despite being endowed with a PA number and having been already submitted to an environment impact assessment.

However, this means that any further plans submitted until final validation will not be available to the public.

And while new projects will be spared from public controversy at the initial stage of the application process, the public will be unable to track progress on older applications awaiting final validation.

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