The Malta Independent 23 May 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: Regularising the irregular

Monday, 22 May 2023, 12:31 Last update: about 2 years ago

It doesn’t need much for one to tell what the situation is when it comes to construction development in Malta.

News in the past few weeks only continues to confirm the obvious: that there is a wide-reaching culture of impunity when it comes to development in Malta, and one which is merely being enabled – rather than curtailed – by the powers that be.

Just this month there have already been court decisions which have rescinded planning permits for projects of some scale.  In these cases though, works have already started.  In one case – reported by The Malta Independent on Sunday this weekend – the project has even been completed!

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Now another legal notice which will allow people to regularise their illegal developments even when these are on ODZ lands, continues to enable that culture.

The Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations had been introduced in August 2016 and give property owners the opportunity to regularise their unsanctionable, non-conformant development located entirely within the development boundaries.

However, a legal notice published in April extended this to properties that extend partially onto ODZ land. Among other things the irregular development must appear in the 2016 aerial photographs taken by the Planning Authority. Fees vary, for example from between €400 to €989,000 for all un-roofed development at ground level on land ODZ covered by a development permit issued prior to the coming into force of these regulations, with the lowest amount for a site area of 25sq.m. outside the development zone, with the amount rising to €989,000 for an ODZ area of more than 10,000sq.m.

The message being sent by the government through the recent expansion of the regularisation policy is for people to “go ahead, abuse in their development and then just wait until the next amnesty”, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar coordinator Astrid Vella told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

This Legal Notice, she said, "yet again encourages abuse. We've seen these regularisations and amnesties come out at regular intervals. The message being sent is go ahead, abuse, and then wait until the next amnesty. It's so blatantly corrupt, there's no other word for it."

She is absolutely right: why should any person bother to follow the rules when it comes to developments, when it is clear that the authorities have proven to be manifestly useless at actually properly enforcing the rules?

Just because the Planning Authority carries out one piece of enforcement action every now and again and sends out a triumphant press release, with photos, and a sponsored ad on social media to celebrate it does not remove the fact that at the same time there is so much that it ignores.

Now rather than ignoring it, the government plans to go one step further by actually legalising what was built illegally. 

Vella is right in saying that all these type of policies do is consistently tell people that they can do what they want, build what they please, and then simply wait long enough to either sanction the development or to apply for a scheme to regularise it.

The Prime Minister recently spoke about a possible upcoming reform which would stop developers from doing works on a site when that is being appealed.  It is a good step forward, but at the same time it is only the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done.

The country needs proper, no-nonsense enforcement; not a government which introduces a reform with one hand, and then uses the other to implement a legal notice to legalise hundreds of illegal developments.

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