The Malta Independent 6 June 2023, Tuesday
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Ian Borg’s swimming pool declared illegal a second time by court

Wednesday, 15 March 2023, 18:35 Last update: about 4 months ago

A permit for Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg to build a swimming pool at his countryside villa has, for the second time, been declared illegal.

An appeals court presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti on Wednesday ruled that the Planning Authority should not have granted a permit to Borg and his wife Rachelle Borg Dingli a permit to build a pool and ancillary facilities at their home in the hamlet of Santa Katerina in Rabat.

The court also blasted the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT), which handles appeals to planning permits, for incorrectly interpreting planning rules when it dismissed an earlier appeal against the permit.

The court therefore declared the planning permit for the pool and its ancillary facilities as being null and “without effect.”

The chief objector to the plans was Noel Ciantar, who had opposed them from the moment Borg presented them in 2018 and who filed the court case against the Planning Authority.

However it remains to be seen what impact the decision would have, as the works on the pool were completed in 2021 when the matter was still pending before the EPRT.

It is the second time that a court has ruled against the PA and Borg's bid for a pool, following a similar decision in 2019. 

The court on Wednesday dismissed the EPRT’s arguments over what they called “conflicting” provisions between local plans and specific planning policies, stating that the local plans clearly say that they take precedence over policy guidance notes.

In this case, the applicable local plan only allowed for the rehabilitation or rebuilding of existing buildings – not the addition of swimming pools. Policies even went so far as to specifically exclude ancillary rural structures such as greenhouses or abandoned structures from qualifying for development, the court noted.

The EPRT “was not correct when it said the local plan neither permits nor excludes use of a swimming pool as an acceptable development. The policy clearly states what is permitted,” the court said, as it chastised the tribunal for having been swayed by legal arguments “not backed by the letter of the law”.

Back in the 2019 appeal, the court accepted Ciantar’s objection that the PA had used a policy which was not applicable to the rural area where Minister Borg had built his controversial home in order to issue a second permit to turn ODZ land into a swimming pool and recreational area.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal said that the PA and the Tribunal could not apply the Rural Policy and Design Guidance document to issue the permit to the Minister as it did not apply to the area where the Minster lives.

Under the applicable plan, a swimming pool in the rural settlement was not permissible, it said.

However, Borg said that the court had not revoked the original planning permit at the time.

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