The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Two blocks of apartments in Qawra get the green light from PA despite illegal excavations

Albert Galea Thursday, 9 April 2020, 14:10 Last update: about 3 months ago

Two blocks of flats planned for what was the site of the Palm Court Hotel in Qawra were given the green light by the Planning Authority despite illegal excavations having occurred on the site.

The two applications were part of a total of four submitted for the same site. Each application included a separate seven-storey block of residential apartments, but the two in question on Thursday – PA 8272/18 and PA 8655/18 – also included the excavation of basement levels across the whole site.

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The two applications which did not include excavations were approved by the PA last March, but in the case of the remaining two the PA Board gave their indication to refuse the applications based on excavations which had already started illegally.

In handing down the decision last March – only a few days after the collapse of a house in Santa Venera took the life of a woman, Miriam Pace – PA Chairman Vince Cassar had said that it was “unacceptable that excavations are carried out without any authorisation” and for developers to then “apply to sanction”.

Cassar warned that “this kind of irresponsibility may lead to tragic accidents similar to the house collapse in Santa Venera”

However, the developer’s architect presented old plans which showed that a significant basement already existed and noted that a geological investigation had exposed a fault which could have resulted in the collapse of the road.  These plans were not presented in the previous sitting, as they had not yet been found.

The architect, David Grima, noted that permission from the Building Regulations Office had been sought, and granted, in July 2019 for works to be carried out to strengthen the area, which fell in the corner of the site.

Grima noted that the basement was already seven metres below street level, and that only a meter of topsoil and less than a metre of rock had been removed.

ERA’s Chairman Victor Axiak was unfazed by the arguments, describing them as “weak”.  He insisted that excavation works went beyond the area covered by the emergency works.  Pushed by Axiak in fact, the project’s architect confirmed that this was the case and that he would not make any attempts to justify the illegal works.

Lawyer Ian Stafrace meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the developer, who is J. Portelli & Sons, meanwhile argued against the sanctioning argument made by Cassar in the previous sitting. “We cannot stop a project simply because of an illegality which can be addressed through fines”, he pointed out.

It was also pointed out that there was a shortfall of 51 parking spaces, with a planning gain of 59,000 was imposed.  The planning gain was initially 425,000 but because the plans were submitted in May 2018, before the new method of calculation which was used to reach the large figure was imposed, the figure was changed to be in accordance with the old method.

A 2,400 fine for applying to sanction illegalities was also imposed.

The PA Board voted to approve the project.

Chairman Vince Cassar voted in favour along with Martin Camilleri, Chris Cilia – who said he was voting in favour simply so the site is not left as it is, Saviour Debono Grech, Sean Mangion, and Duncan Mifsud. 

ERA Chairman Victor Axiak, NGO Representative Annick Bonello, Gilmour Camilleri, and Omar Vella all voted against the project.

With a six to four majority however, both applications were approved.

 

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