The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Tal-Magħtab Construction applies to sanction facilities, over 20 years after they were built

Kevin Schembri Orland & Albert Galea Sunday, 25 August 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 27 days ago

An application on the site of Tal-Magħtab Construction on Triq ir-Ramla, Magħtab, has been filed to sanction structures which were never permitted to be built, some of which have been the subject of enforcement notices since 1996.

The company is one of the country’s largest construction companies but its own premises, ironically, have been flouting planning laws for over 20 years.

The site itself has been subject to at least three applications in the past, one of which was filed in 2018 to sanction development, and another three enforcement orders.

In February 1996, an application was filed to “erect concrete batching plant and ancillary facilities in a quarry” on the site. That same year, an enforcement action was filed on the site, for the “construction of batching plant without permit.” The Planning Authority Board refused the application.

Among its reasons for refusal, the board highlighted that “the site lies outside the limits for development defined in the Temporary Provisions schemes for Magħtab and so it is located in an area which is proposed to remain undeveloped and open. The proposed development would run counter to this scheme and would represent unacceptable urban development in the countryside.” A request to reconsider the refusal was also filed; however, the original decision – that is, for the application to be refused – stood.

This decision was appealed, and during the appeal process, the board went on site and was shown the development that had taken place. “The enforcement officer said that the development is all without permission.”

In its report, the authority said: “The ‘existing disused’ quarry has been recently excavated to the desired depth in order to be used for the intended development, i.e., a batching plant. Appellant did not provide any police licence or any other relevant document that permitted to excavate the site. Furthermore, neither the survey sheets, nor the aerial photos show the presence of a quarry on site. Therefore, the claim that the batching plant is to be located in a ‘disused quarry’ is misleading. Moreover, excavation is subject to a development permit.”

It went on to read: “The surrounding area is characterized by mixed uses, including agricultural, residential and industrial, although it is dominantly an agricultural zone. The site, however, abuts residential building, thus making the location of the batching plant inappropriate.”

The board denied the appeal and upheld the original permission to refuse the application. This appeal ended in 2014.

While this was ongoing, another enforcement notice was filed in 1997 – a year after the first – for the “construction of workshop / garages and offices without permit.”

In 1998, another application on the site was filed, asking for the “construction of offices, garage for heavy plant and construction of batching plant completely below street level.” This application was also refused.

The same year, another enforcement order was issued, regarding the “change of use of land as well as batching plant without permit.”

The case status for all three enforcement notices read, up until a few days ago, “pending at enforcement officer.” Now the status reads: “Enforcement action suspended. Awaiting final determination of application”, although a PA spokesperson confirmed that all three are still active.

A spokesperson for the Planning Authority told this newsroom that the majority of the structures subject to enforcement action were first visible in 1994 aerial photography, prior to which the area comprised of agricultural land.

He said that to this day, the office has no records whatsoever of any authorisation for the aforementioned structures or their uses.  He noted, however, that a current planning application attempts to sanction all the infringements on the site.

In fact, an application was filed in 2018 to sanction construction of a batching plant at lower level, including excavation of rock to form space for batching plant, to sanction shelter for heavy vehicles, including hard-standing at ground level, to sanction a mechanic’s workshop, sanitary facilities and generator room and to sanction office space at two levels.

This is not the first time that the applicant – Tal- Magħtab Construction’s Dennis Baldacchino – has attempted to sanction the illegalities on site. The decision notes from the appeal that had been filed by Baldacchino in an attempt to overturn the rejection of his 1998 application, which were written in 2014, say that an application to sanction the buildings had been filed in 2009, but then withdrawn the following year.

“The present position is therefore that what is being proposed in the application that is subject to this appeal, PA 862/98, as presented on 7 February 1996 – effectively has already been done illegally without a permit.  After no less than 13 years (from 1996 to 2009), on 7 August 2009 an application as presented to sanction all the development that had been done on the site without a permit; however the application was withdrawn on 5 May 2010”, the report reads.

Contacted by this newsroom for an explanation as to why his company had effectively operated out of a site that was built without any permission, Dennis Baldacchino was unwilling to comment, first saying that he did not speak to journalists over the phone, then saying that he preferred to meet face-to-face, before immediately hanging up when asked when he would be available to meet.

The latest application, filed in 2018, has yet to be decided and no recommendation from the PA as to whether it should be refused or approved has been made yet.

The Environment and Resources Authority, in its screening for the potential need of an environment impact assessment, said that the project site is located in a rural settlement in Magħtab near the Magħtab and ta’ l-Għallis landfill. “The site is surrounded by other industrial uses, agricultural land, and other residential dwellings. The nearest single-family homes are two to three storeys high, located on either side of the project site.”

The screening concluded that impact of the development is unlikely to be significant enough to warrant an environment impact assessment, but said that an operational noise study, including an assessment of all the equipment and machinery used on site together with the truck trips generated daily to and from the site, needs to be carried out to determine the increase in noise levels when compared to the existing baseline noise levels.

The site in question, as part of the Central Malta Local Plan Magħtab Planning Strategy Area Policy, is part of what is defined as an industry cluster. In such a cluster, light industry (Class 5A), general industry (Class 5B) and warehousing and open storage (Class 6A) will be considered. The range of allowable industrial land uses within sites which already accommodate industrial activity shall be considered on a case-by-case basis within the context of this strategy.

Further development within the industrial clusters shall in general seek to improve industrial activities and to reduce deleterious impacts on surrounding land uses in Magħtab, the strategy reads.

Furthermore, it says that redevelopment or intensification of industrial uses will only be considered by the Planning Authority if this leads to a general improvement of the site. The scale of development or intensification shall be considered within the context of existing development within the site and its immediate surroundings.

Within the industrial development site directly abutting residential units, the introduction of mitigation measures to reduce impacts on adjacent land uses is required, including a landscaping buffer space of at least three metres.

Past development in Magħtab introduced an element of industrial land use to the area, the policy notes.

“This land use was and remains extraneous and negatively impacting land use that is alien and not conducive to the conservation of the rural character and context of the area.”

In this respect, the policy guides towards a containment of these land uses to specific clusters.

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