The Malta Independent 10 December 2022, Saturday
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Sannat mayor speaks out against ‘monstrous’ apartments, points finger at PA

Sabrina Zammit Thursday, 14 April 2022, 11:29 Last update: about 9 months ago

The mayor of the Gozitan village of Sannat has spoken out against permits being granted for “monstrous” apartment buildings, and pointed the finger of blame at the Planning Authority – saying that the decision to allow such developments lies with them and not local councils. 

Asked to comment on developer Joseph Portelli’s mega-development plans close to the Sannat cliffs, plans which have consistenly been approved by the Planning Authority, Philip Vella told The Malta Independent that the local council had sought the technical advice of architects on the matter but that “they told us that these applications are within development zone,” and that therefore not much could be done. 

The Mayor said that that during a local council regional meeting, all mayors had unanimously agreed that fingers are being pointed at local councils wrongfully because “as long as developers are applying for buildings within the development zone, we as a local council can do absolutely nothing.” 

He said that journalists should seek to discuss this matter with either the chairperson or the CEO of the Planning Authority. 

The Malta Independent has been requesting an interview with PA chairperson Martin Saliba since end of May 2021, which requests have been consistently refused. 

Although such plans are within development zones and in line with the decision of rationalisation of the local plans taken in 2006, which saw an increase in the land that can be developed, Vella said that it has also created problems such as parking ones. 

Speaking about past project objections done by the Sannat local council, the mayor said that even when the council did object, they still “steam rolled over us”. 

Vella said that the local council has taken a stand that if a development is not within development zones it will object to it and do everything within its powers to resolve the issue. 

Putting more emphasis on the fact that the local council does not favour excessive development, the mayor mentioned how upon issuing a tender for an architect, the Sannat Local Council had included a clause that the architect that was to be engaged had to not be involved with anyone who is developing excessively, “so that we can protect ourselves as a local council and the advice given is of good quality.” 

Asked to comment on a Facebook post done by Xaghra Mayor Christina Zammit, where he labelled Joseph Portelli’s latest approved Sannat permitted plans as continuing to “rape Gozo”, Vella said that although he respects his opinion he is not going to comment on it, but added that for this ‘rape’ to stop there needs to be a change in policy from the Planning Authority’s side. 

“In a situation where local councils were to be given powers to decide on planning permits, and whether to withhold them or issue them, I can tell you that I would be amongst the first to withhold permits for monstrous buildings”, he said. 

Mentioning the line which is given by concerned authorities for the height of developments not to be exceeded, Vella said that if, for example, such a line is given exactly in level with a rubble wall, it would mean that future balconies of the same property would be over the rubble wall. He added that such a situation would create parking and bus passage problems. 

“This means that problems are doubling, but that these permits are legal nonetheless,” he said. 

Sannat and Joseph Portelli: The Gozitan developer’s latest stomping grounds

Sannat has become the centre of the latest spree of apartment developments by Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli.

A total of four applications – three of which have already been approved – for apartment blocks in effectively the same street have been filed by known associates of Portelli in the past months and years.

The most recent one was filed last January by Portelli’s associate Mark Agius, and combines an already existing block of flats and an undeveloped plot of land adjacent to it.

The proposal for the undeveloped site is to construct two basement levels of private garages, proposed 5 maisonettes at ground floor level and 15 apartments at levels 1, 2 and 3 and a further receded floor level with four apartments.

The application then proposes an extension to the existing block of flats, which contains three apartments, by a full floor and another receded floor.

The three other applications, which have all been approved by the Planning Authority despite their scale and the fact that they were all on agricultural land and that two of them were partly on ODZ land, will see the construction of a total of 126 apartments.

The practice of separating a major development into separate, smaller applications has long been criticised as a means of exploiting a loophole in regulations to avoid additional environmental scrutiny for projects.

Portelli and his associates particularly are known for employing such techniques with some of his other planning applications.

The most recent of the three applications was approved a week before the general election, in a sitting where NGOs said that the board chairperson Stephania Baldacchino had acted as the primary defender of the project herself.

This came after the application was initially recommended for refusal because it breached a number of planning policies, but that recommendation was overturned after the Commission strangely asked the PA's Executive Council to review the application, even though that same council has nothing to do with reviewing these applications.

The move prompted environmental NGOs to accuse the authorities of "rolling out the red carpet" for Portelli and his partners.  The application was in fact approved soon after.

It later emerged that Prime Minister Robert Abela was the "guest of honour" at a dinner organised by Portelli just a week before the mega development was approved.

The location of these developments is a stone’s throw away from the Natura 2000 site of Ta’ Cenc cliffs, an area known as the home of one of the largest colonies of nesting shearwaters in the Mediterranean.

One of the approved developments in fact takes up a portion of ODZ land, while the fourth application also borders Sannat’s Urban Conservation Area.




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