The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Villas instead of old farm buildings - Scrap the ODZ policy now

Wednesday, 7 August 2019, 09:37 Last update: about 11 days ago

A decision on a controversial application to turn a dilapidated room on agricultural land in Qala into a sprawling villa was yesterday postponed by the Planning Commission.

The land in question, which real estate agents say is worth around €100,000, was bought in January for half a million euros by a company owned by property mogul and speculator Joe Portelli (of San Blas fame) and two others - Mark Agius 'Ta' Dirjanu' and Daniel Refalo.

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Agius, who applied for the permit, is asking the Planning Authority to approve his application on the basis of a ridiculous policy that says that old dwellings on ODZ can be developed if the applicant can present proof that the property was once inhabited.

The applicant has presented two documents to show that an old lady once lived on the site but, according to reports, the documents do not provide an address. One of the documents only states that the woman was found dead in a room in the Ta' Muxi area in 1921.

The Planning Directorate has argued that a death certificate is not proof of residence. Also, Times of Malta said it has seen another document that shows that the old lady actually lived in the centre of Qala, close to the parish church.

The case officer has recommended a refusal, but the commission said turning down the application would not be consistent with decisions taken in similar cases, adding that this particular application did not go against the aforementioned policy.

But the policy, as flawed as it is, clearly states that it must be "sufficiently proven" that the site was once inhabited. Two documents without an address can hardly be considered as sufficient proof of habitation, especially when another document with an actual (and different) address has emerged.

One hopes that the Planning Commission throws out the 'proof' presented and only accepts the decision if actual proof is presented.

But more needs to be done. The entire policy needs to be scrapped now, before it can be abused even further, to the detriment of our environment.

Just because someone lived in a country farmhouse decades or centuries ago does not mean that these dwellings should be turned into modern-day villas. Practically all old farmhouses were inhabited at some point in time, but that was a different time - a time when the country was not under siege by the construction sector, and when much of the country was still green.  

There was no ODZ then - because there was no need for it.

Besides, one can also point out that people used to live in caves around the island until a few centuries ago. So should the PA grant permission for these caves to be turned into residences?

The policy is also outrageous in that it allows piles of rubble to be rebuilt into modern residences. One such case occurred in Zabbar, where an old farm building that had collapsed decades ago was rebuilt into a villa just because the 1947 electoral register had someone listed as living there.

Before the controversial policy came into effect in 2014, only structurally sound buildings could be considered, but under the current policy even a pile of rubble can be magically turned into a villa.

There have been times, although not many, where the Planning Authority has admitted mistakes and tried to rectify them. One such instance was the fuel stations policy - a stupid 2015 law that led to the destruction of many acres of agricultural land for the relocation of fuel stations. While the revised policy is not perfect, it is much better than the regulations that are currently in place.

We hope that the PA finds the courage to also admit that the 2014 ODZ regulations were a farce. In this case, it should not review the policy, but scrap it completely, before more damage is done. 


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