Ghost applications: Planning Authority’s hot potatoes go off-radar

From agritourism projects to new roads in Gozo, the PA’s own geoserver is littered with applications whose details are, however, being withheld from the public

In May 2019, the Planning Authority restricted public access to the details of planning applications which were incomplete
In May 2019, the Planning Authority restricted public access to the details of planning applications which were incomplete

In May 2019, the Planning Authority took the unprecedented step to restrict public access to the details of planning applications which are not yet ‘completed’, purging its information system from applications deemed to be incomplete.

All of a sudden, the details of a large number of applications whose plans had been previously accessible, suddenly disappeared from public view.

In the PA regime, an application is only considered ‘complete’ when the application form is fully filled and all documentation required has been fully submitted.

Apart from older applications like that related to the proposed 40-storey hotel in Fort Cambridge in Tigné and the American University of Malta’s Zonqor campus, a considerable number of applications submitted after May are still inaccessible.

By some fluke the PA’s interactive map of Malta and Gozo, where users click to check the details of applications when presented on any particular site – still shows the location of these “ghost” applications.

Risk of back-room dealing

The Planning Authority has justified taking off applications because its legal obligation to publish application details and related plans only arises when the application process is finalised.

Yet many of the removed applications already included detailed plans and subsequent changes sometimes made over a period of years. Sociologist and former PN candidate Michael Briguglio warns that this lack of transparency may lead to back-room dealing. “The mere fact that PA is hiding controversial applications in localities of Bidnija and Marsascala is in bad faith, suspicious and goes against the spirit of freedom of information,” he said.

Instead Briguglio contends that the PA should be transparent and foster public consultation on development proposals “from day 1, and not after behind the scenes lobbying takes place…As things stand, developers and political elites are privileged stakeholders at the expense of normal citizens.”

The following is an incomplete list of applications involving large tracts of land which can be identified on the PA’s geoserver, but whose details are still not accessible to the public.

ODZ roadside applications in Mriehel, Zejtun, and Birkirkara

ODZ (outside development zones) applications, the details of which are yet inaccessible, have been presented on various sites. These include a large 3,000sq.m site which harbours a farm building along the Mriehel bypass, opposite the Fort Business Centre. The site overlaps with the newly approved Central Link road project. Back in 2003 the site was earmarked for a wedding hall in an application presented by Joe Micallef, which was refused.

Other roadside applications involve a site of a large animal husbandry farm located between Triq San Guzepp and Triq Haz-Zabbar in Zejtun (3862/19 and 2494/18) at another, ta’ Gannara, along the Dun Karm bypass in Birkirkara (4369/19).

These ghost applications coincide with the revision of the policy regulating the relocation of petrol stations whose latest draft does not preclude the relocation of large urban petrol stations to sites currently occupied by animal farms.

Road widening works in Gozo

The PA’s geoserver reveals the extent of an application (3000/19) widening the stretch of roads between Marsalforn and Rabat, which impacts on a number of trees along Triq Marsalforn and involves the take-up of agricultural land connecting Triq il-Marsalforn and Triq l-Ewropa.

The roads between Marsalforn and Rabat which were proposed to be widened
The roads between Marsalforn and Rabat which were proposed to be widened

In April, just before the Planning Authority removed the incomplete application, MaltaToday reported an application by the Gozo Ministry envisaging road-cutting across the hillside gardens beneath Fort Chambray, taking up some 8,000sq.m of agricultural land, woodland and dense vegetation.

The Marsaskala waterpolo pitch

In 2016, the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure filed an application to develop a waterpolo pitch on 6,075sq.m of seabed along the Marsaskala promenade in Triq is-Salini. 150 residents had signed a petition objecting to the building of a water polo pitch that would be accessed from Triq is-Salini, arguing that locating the pitch near a residential zone would cause noise and parking problems.

The site for the proposed 6,075 sq.m waterpolo pitch in Marsaskala
The site for the proposed 6,075 sq.m waterpolo pitch in Marsaskala

To the frustration of people who had already objected to the application, details and plans related to this application are no longer visible.

Agritourism in Bingemma

Objectors clicking the site of a proposed agritourism in Bingemma are now faced with two new ghost applications presented on the same site in 2018 (4149/18) and 2019 (4470/19), details of which are inaccessible.

The location for a proposed agritourism project in Bingemma
The location for a proposed agritourism project in Bingemma

Residents have sent MaltaToday photos of paving works on a recently widened passage, which they believe are connected to the latest plans. The original plans presented by Sunripe Limited in 2017 foresaw seven accommodation rooms in the middle of the countryside, covering 372sq.m of land, accompanied by a restaurant, lounge and kids play area, and separate outdoor recreational areas with a 92sq.m swimming pool and 45sq.m deck, gazebos and outdoor cooking area.

Wedding Hall in Attard

The site of the Alfa Gardens wedding hall in Attard
The site of the Alfa Gardens wedding hall in Attard

The Alfa Gardens wedding hall located in the middle of the countryside in Tal-Rmiedi in Attard was hit by an enforcement order, which had been issued following a probe by MaltaToday in 2014. The enforcement notice referred to the construction of “various rooms and structures, the paving and formation of passageways, landscaping works, creation of access and installation of gate without permit.” Two ghost applications, one dating back to 2016 (4103/16) and another presented in 2019 (4527/19), have been presented on the site of the wedding hall.

Mysterious applications in Burmarrad

Two ODZ applications in Burmarrad include an extensive triangular site presently occupied by Piscopo Gardens (3687/19); and details of a pending application presented last year on a site owned by Easysell (10622/18) have also gone missing. The applications come in the wake of a new policy which, if approved, will allow five-storey developments along Triq Burmarrad. Another ghost application has been presented along a country path linking Triq Burmarrad and Wied il-Ghasel.  MaltaToday understands that this project is related to environmental restoration works. Details of an application dating back to 1997 on the same stretch of countryside are not accessible.

Batching plant in Siggiewi

Details of an application (1224/19) presented by Univest Ltd to construct a batching on a 9,000sq.m site near the Falconry centre at Siggiewi have also gone missing.

The site for the proposed Siggiewi batching plant
The site for the proposed Siggiewi batching plant

The application was presented after the Planning Authority issued an enforcement order against illegal works carried out on the site following reports by MaltaToday. But after the developer failed to comply, the PA justified not taking action because the developer had presented a sanctioning application.

The infringements in the area included the removal of topsoil to expose bedrock, the removal of rubble walls and the change of use of site from agricultural use to that of keeping of “large machinery, metal and construction materials”.

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