27 September 2023

DLĦ challenges PA’s approval of ODZ dwelling

Din l-Art Ħelwa has filed an appeal against a permit granted for a villa in the countryside of Gozo.

The Planning Commission, chaired by Martin Camilleri, approved the villa on the scenic Gelmus hillside in Victoria, Gozo in June 2023.

The application was processed through a policy that allows farms that have been inactive since at least 2004 to be converted into a single dwelling. The Planning Directorate had initially recommended the refusal of the application since the applicant had failed to prove that a legally established farm ever existed on the site and that the alleged farm had in fact ceased to operate prior to 2004.

At the first hearing held in July 2020, the Planning Commission deferred the case, giving the applicant an opportunity to provide new evidence to address the reasons of refusal. After failing to provide sufficient evidence, the Planning Commission again deferred the case and would do so another three times over a span of three years, each time giving the applicant a further opportunity to provide new evidence. 

The Planning Commission eventually green-lit the development on the basis of documents that had already been filed prior to July 2020. The Planning Directorate had at that time assessed these same documents and deemed them insufficient after the Agricultural Advisory Committee had confirmed that they failed to prove that a legally established farm existed on the site and moreover that the alleged farm had been inactive since at least 2004.

Din l-Art Ħelwa filed the appeal in front of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, saying it fails to understand how documentation deemed inadequate by both the Agricultural Advisory Committee and the Planning Directorate could somehow form the basis for the Planning Commission’s approval of a new dwelling in the ODZ.

The NGO maintains that an incomplete permit for a pigsty dating back to 1966 and a registry listing ‘ox’ slaughtered at the abattoir in Gozo between 1957 and 1967 (before the ‘pigsty’ was ever approved) do not prove that a legally-established farm operated on the site. Moreover, the existence of a farm would in itself not be sufficient to qualify for a new dwelling on the site. The farm would have also had to have been inactive since at least 2004.

The Planning Commission disregarded this most basic and essential condition when it approved this development without sufficient evidence in hand. It is unacceptable for the Commission, entrusted with applying regulations that aim to protect the environment from unnecessary development, to fail to respect the most basic safeguards.

The appeal is still being heard by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal and is yet to be decided.

Case Reference PA/01112/20