Planning Authority – Controlled Anarchy

I never thought that I would hear myself say that the Planning Authority (formerly MEPA) should be disbanded altogether. I had thought that imperfect as it was, the Planning Authority prevented Malta from sinking into uncontrolled anarchy.  I was wrong. At the Lija apartments hearing of two months ago I realised that we are sinking into controlled anarchy with a strong hand deciding who evades control and who has to submit to it.

Is that why in spite of an increased caseload, the two EPC Boards that that used to decide cases have been reduced to one, in order to ensure full control over the process? Not to mention the fact that the Development Control Design Policy 2015 working group included some of the most notorious architects in practice, including one who has twice faced court proceedings for architectural malpractice and whose name is synonymous with planning irregularities?  What was these architects’ role in on the board – that of ensuring that the new policy is elastic enough to accommodate their needs?

The latest controversial case concerns application PA3552/15, to add six floors to an unstable house dating to the early 1800s along the Sliema Ferries seafront.  The same project was refused in 2011, including by the Panning Appeals Board and Sanitary Board in 2014 as it violated the sanitary law which does not permit an eight-storey building in narrow St Vincent Street. And yet the developer applied for the same project again, hoping for a more sympathetic board. The PA’s Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee has stated: “The Panel considers that eight floors on St Vincent Street would have a negative impact on the streetscape and the characteristic buildings in the said street. Since the applicant’s property is not wide enough to include terracing on St Vincent Street, the Panel objects to the proposal.”

Yet at the hearing the EPC Chairperson was very receptive to the developers and immediately after the session, the Case Officer’s refusal was changed to recommended approval in spite of the fact that this project also violates the policy re “Frontage Widths along the Sliema and St. Julian’s Waterfronts – To avoid pencil development along the Sliema and St. Julian’s waterfronts, proposals for new high buildings having a façade width that is less than 25m will not be permitted”. This building facade has a width of 5.11m!

In spite of the Case Officer’s recommendation to refuse once again, the PA EPC is to approve this eyesore this coming Friday 28th Oct, basing its decision on an invalid precedent and incorrect information supplied by the developers. It is not surprising that Sliema residents are disgusted and will be protesting on Saturday 5th November.  PA Chairman Vincent Cassar, CEO Johann Buttigieg, Parliamentary Secretary Dr Deborah Schembri and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat are called upon to look into this case to prevent yet another eyesore and planning scandal.

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