Times of Malta, 12th July 2008, by Mark Micallef

The appeal against Mepa’s decision to revoke the infamous permit for a tourism complex in Ramla l-Ħamra may be dealt a mortal blow even before it gets going properly if the board hearing the case accepts the authority’s plea to declare the process null.

The process has technically started but the board has not yet heard any submissions about the case after Mepa’s legal representatives objected to the fact that the appeal fees had not been paid.

Legal sources told The Times that, despite coming across as a silly technicality, there have been cases of appeals being rendered null on this basis.

The developers behind the project are appealing against a unanimous decision by the Mepa board last October revoking the permit it had given just four months earlier for the development of a 23-unit tourist complex instead of the former Ulysses Lodge discotheque.

The developers’ legal representatives argued that the authority had not calculated the sum of money which their client was meant to pay for the appeal but Mepa’s lawyer insisted that the authority had nothing to do with the process and the onus for paying the appeal fees rests with the developer.

The fees for appeals amount to €186 or five per cent of the planning application fees paid previously, whichever is higher. Mepa’s lawyer argued that the developer should have known this and paid the money while submitting the application.

The developer is fighting this but, in a hearing yesterday, appeals board chairman Ian Spiteri Bailey decided to postpone the case till November when the board will re-convene to thrash out this issue.

Environmentalists and activists who have been fighting against this project all along were cautiously optimistic as they left the hearing. Earlier, they held a protest outside the building where the hearing was held in Xewkija. Most of the protestors were British expats who have a residence in Gozo, one of them holding placards saying “Ulysees come save Calypso for she is being raped”, a reference to the mention which the area is said to have received in Homer’s Odyssey.

The approval of the complex had sparked a raging controversy that had mobilised public opinion against the permit’s approval. Eventually, the authority itself moved a case for revoking the permit.

The crux of the matter revolved around a tract of land within the site proposed for development which, according to Mepa’s lawyers, is government-owned.

The authority does not usually go into the merits of third party rights but in this case one of the conditions tied to the permit was that the developer enters into a public deed with Mepa, binding himself not to sell the villas he planned to build as separate units but to retain the project as a whole.

In light of this, Mepa’s lawyers had argued that the authority cannot execute the public deed with someone who does not possess the entire property rights over the land earmarked for development.

Furious, the developers’ lawyers had described the meeting as “orchestrated”, ironically echoing the same claim environmentalists had made when the project was approved four months earlier.