The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

Exclusive: ‘Illegal’ developer is buying another 8 tumoli in San Blas

Malta Independent Wednesday, 2 July 2014, 09:00 Last update: about 4 years ago

Controversial Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli is set to buy an extensive piece of pristine land at Gozo’s pictoresque San Blas Bay, The Malta Independent can reveal. The eight tumoli of land touches the sizable land he already claims to be his while land registry shows the contrary. An investigation by this newsroom revealed that he is in fact planning to sign the contract this Friday.

It also transpires that Mr Portelli has not yet signed the contract of purchase for land on which Mepa has issued an enforcement notice following illegalities exposed by The Malta Independent. This newsroom tried to establish if the land in San Blas on which Mr Portelli started illegal development forms part of the sizable eight tumoli he intends to purchase this Friday, however sources who know what is going on and what might be the developer’s intentions in owning so much land in San Blas claim that it is not clear if this is part and parcel of the contract since Lands departiment documentation clearly show that it is public land.

On Monday Mr Portelli insisted with this newsroom that the land in question is his and that he bought it six months ago. Land Registry maps show, however, that the part of the land which Mr Portelli is claming is his is registered as publicly-owned. The developer claimed that when the Lands Registry registered the site some years back it “overlapped” onto a piece of land which he says now belongs to him.

But this paper can reveal that Mr Portelli does not fully own the land in question yet – at least not until Friday. Very reliable sources told The Malta Independent that Mr Portelli signed the ‘konvenju’ (promise of sale)  six months ago and will be signing the final contract of purchase on Friday. He is buying the land – eight tumoli - from a Maltese family with the surname Micallef.

Mr Portelli has effectively carried out works without any permits on land he does not yet hold title on. Yet in comments to this paper on Monday Mr Portelli claimed that he has been using the site for camping for at least 25 years. He also claimed that other persons had squatted on the land and when it went up for sale three years ago he gave them a chance to buy it. When they did not, he bought the land himself. All very confusing statements when considering that he is about to purchase the land this week, while official documents show that the land he started development in is public land.

Apart from these 8 tumoli of land, Portelli told us that he also bought the tract of land till the foot of the Qortin Isopu Plateau in San Blas Bay. It is not yet clear what Mr Portelli’s intentions for the land are since he claimed that the only reason he wants to own it is to camp there in summer.

The Environment and Planning Authority, MEPA, on Monday issued an enforcement order and a daily fine of 50 Euros after two enforcement officials went on the San Blas site. MEPA sent its officers in Gozo after The Malta Independent on Sunday revealed that works were being carried out at the site – all vegetation was cleared, a metal gate was installed and a meta structure was also raised. In a press release issued on Monday evening, MEPA confirmed that the structures were built without a permit and that concrete had been used to erect the metal structure. The authority also said, and this was confirmed by Mr Portelli, that work had been carried out on rubble walls.

When The Malta Independent yesterday asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Simplification of Administritive Process Michael Falzon if the land in question is goverment owned, he said “that I am not aware that there is an issue over the land in question. Buyer buys at his own risk. If the land belongs to the government then the state will make sure that it is protected.”

 

PM defends Mepa CEO over San Blas

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat meanwhile chose to defend the Mepa CEO over the illegal development that The Malta Independent uncovered, preferring to first highlight a case of mistaken identity instead of condemning outright the illegal development that was taking place at the protected San Blas beach until last Sunday.

Asked by this newsroom on why Mepa did not take action when, according to environmental NGOs, it had received a report on the development that was taking place, in his answer Dr Muscat prioritised the mistake in the identity of the person that was seen on site together with the developer.

Environmental NGOs, in a statement, said that a report was submitted to MEPA on 18 June, however no action was taken until last Monday.

In his reply, Dr Muscat said that it is now “clear” that Mepa CEO Johann Buttigieg was not present on site – this after sources told this newspaper that the authority’s chief executive had spotted at San Blas bay with the developer in question – Joseph Portelli.

Dr Muscat said that he was not aware of a report made to Mepa earlier in June, and he asked MEPA for an explanation – to which MEPA replied that no report had been made. “MEPA should publicly come clear about the case. If indeed there was a report and no enforcement was taken, then that is clearly wrong.”

Gozo Minister condemns illegal development

The Malta Independent also asked Gozo Minister Anton Refalo on the San Blas development. Without being prompted, the minister condemned what had taken place. “Gozo must remain the diamond that it is,” said the minister

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday revealed that works were underway in a field next to the picturesque beach at San Blas, which, according to sources, could either be turned into a camp site with a kiosk or an exclusive beach area for the hotel which Mr Portelli owns.

Speaking to this newsroom Monday, Mr Portelli said that “we have been camping here for more than 25 years. We just installed a gate and a metal frame to put an awning on.”

MEPA’s enforcement officers on Monday also inspected the site and it resulted that an iron gate and a metal frame had been assembled. Moreover, it was noticed that maintenance of the existing rubble walls took place and concrete was utilised to install a number of metal poles, Mepa said.

During MEPA’s inspection, Mr Joseph Portelli declared to be the sole owner and that the site in question was a private land. He also stated that works carried out last week were meant for ‘personal use’.

Since the site in question is listed as Grade 3 Area of Ecological Importance, the officers immediately stopped the illegal work and an enforcement notice (ECF 139/14) together with a daily fine (maximum fine of €50 per day) was issued against Mr Portelli.  

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