Record 1,500 planning objections filed by DLĦ

Last year, Din l-Art Ħelwa filed a record-breaking 1,500 objections to individual planning applications in 2022 – close to a third of which concern proposed developments in Gozo.

The NGO has a team – the Heritage and Environment Protection sub-committee – which scans all the applications and prioritises those of most concern. The sub-committee is assisted by various professionals working on a pro-bono basis, enabling it to tackle far more than its financial resources would otherwise allow.

“Our ongoing efforts have not been in vain. Despite the odds being undoubtedly stacked against us, Din l-Art Ħelwa has had several victories,” DLĦ executive president Alex Torpiano said.

“We appeal to individuals and companies to assist us with funds as the workload is increasing. We want to be in a position where the victories send a clear message to developers that it is not going to be worth their while to try to flout the law. Our recent victory against a development in Saqqajja is one example of a Court ruling that will hopefully make other applicants think twice before attempting to break the law: the Court of Appeal confirmed that the Local Plan for an area has to be considered as the law.”

A number of worrying trends have unfortunately become widespread: an alarming number of townhouses attributed to Malta’s distinct early 20th-century urban areas are being demolished and replaced by apartment blocks; a number of major projects including multi-storey hotels towering over residential areas; and the craze for building 5-storey apartment blocks in Gozo’s low-lying neighbourhoods.

These trends have a negative impact on all those who live, work in or visit these areas. The green lungs in the heart of urban areas are being lost through the excavation and development of sites, and the irregular increase in buildings heights is destroying the character of village cores – which form such an important element in our cultural heritage.

There are also other forms of abuse becoming all too common that need to be monitored and curtailed: there have been dozens of requests for sheep farms, stables and agricultural stores which can only be described as dubious in nature: these are leading to an unprecedented take-up of the rural area. DLĦ is particularly worried about these because the damage is often irreversible, particularly if the destruction of the environment is in future an excuse to develop the land even further.

The sheer number of cases has of course led to an overwhelming increase in the HEP team’s workload. After monitoring all the applications, the team creates the shortlist for objections and must follow up on each of these cases. This entails attending Planning Board meetings when possible and, if necessary, filing appeals in the hope of overturning the approved developments which are deemed to be unjustifiably detrimental.


Environment and Planning Review Tribunal

In 2022, DLĦ filed 13 new appeals in front of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, which included:

  • a massive residential development – split over three separate applications – that would see 124 new apartments along Sannat’s cliff-edge;
  • an outline application for a monstrous 7-storey development of 161 apartments in the Ghirghien area of Birzebbuga that would destroy an entire landscape;
  • a 4-storey apartment block approved at the edge of Lija’s rural area;
  • a 5-storey development in Birkirkara’s intact urban conservation area and another in the heart of Victoria.

In addition, DLĦ is contributing to the appeal filed against the Environment and Resources Authority’s approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Comino village and hotel development.

DLĦ also registered to and made submissions on a further 21 appeals filed by developers on applications that were originally refused by the Planning Commission.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal ordered the developer of an apartment block just outside Qormi’s urban conservation area to reduce its height to preserve the site’s historical context.

The tribunal also upheld an appeal filed by DLĦ against a 5-storey development in Żebbug, Gozo, as well as another similar development in Xagħra that was unjustly approved despite the site lying partially in the rural area.

An appeal filed by DLĦ against another 5-storey apartment block in Gozo, located along a watercourse on the outskirts of Rabat, was also upheld by the tribunal.

These cases were all sent back to the Planning Authority to be reconsidered in line with the applicable policies, which DLĦ successfully proved were wrongly interpreted by the deciding Planning Commission.

DLĦ is also challenging the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal’s 2018 decision on the Quad high-rise development since it was not impartial or independent at the time, in view of the fact that the Tribunal chairman was a Planning Authority employee when the Authority was itself a party to the appeal he was deciding.

Other successful appeals managed to stop:

  • a villa and pool on stilts in Baħrija’s Natura 2000 site.
  • Palumbo Shipyards’ proposal to construct a 43.8m tent
  • the destruction of a historical water cistern in the heart of Ħamrun’s village core

Court appeals

DLĦ has also filed several court appeals throughout the course of the year. These include an appeal against the tribunal’s confirmation of a high-rise tower in Naxxar as well as a development application for a tourism accommodation in Żurrieq’s rural area as part of an active rabbit breeding farm.