Planning Commission flouts government orders on COVID-19

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Planning Authority has announced its decision to restart the public hearings for Planning Commission meetings. This decision flies in the face of government sanctions against any form of organised meetings. The Planning Ombudsman too objected to the public hearings saying that these should not be held while COVID-19 sanctions are in place. Meanwhile, Planning Chairman Perit Vince Cassar has tested positive for COVID-19.

Conflicting information

The Planning Authority said that it will be taking all the necessary precautionary measures to safeguard public health and abide by all the directives issued by the Health Authorities. The statement was issued after Newsboonk.com.mt and other media pointed out to the PA that the scheduled public hearings were still listed on the Authority’s website. Meanwhile, the Authority’s website also featured an announcement saying that all the public hearings had been suspended.

A hearing pending refusal?

The PA said that the Planning Commissions “will only be deciding those cases where no issues were raised during the planning processing of the application and for which there are no registered objectors.” The decisions of the Planning Board, on the other hand, are still in abeyance. In front of the Planning Board are 4 applications, all of which have objectors. The two applications pertaining to Qawra, one submitted by Mr Daniel Refalo and one by Ms Chloe Portelli request the sanctioning of excavations and the construction of a large number of apartments. Refalo is the business partner of Gozitan developer Joe Portelli and Chloe Portelli is the developer’s daughter. In both cases, should the Planning Board see these two applications this week, the decision would be taken after a deferral. In both cases, the Board minutes refer:

“The Chairman expressed his intention to vote against the recommendation of the Planning Directorate since it was totally unacceptable that illegal excavations were carried out on site. Such irresponsibility may lead to tragic accidents similar to the one which occurred earlier in the week. Prof Victor Axiak and Ms Simone Mousu also expressed their intention to vote against the recommendation of the Planning Directorate for the same reason indicated by the Chairman.

(…) Half the members present expressed their intention to overturn the recommendation of the Planning Directorate and thus there was a possibility that the Board’s vote could be against the recommendation. The decision was deferred in line with the spirit of regulation 13(4) of LN 162 of 2016. This regulation aimed at avoiding having the applicant being faced with an overturning of a recommendation without having the possibility to react to the conditions or reasons for refusal.”

Chairman in isolation…and the Board?

Members close to the Planning Authority said that it is inconceivable how the applicant who has flouted the law and excavated illegally, can now redress the issue. They also noted an added difficulty since the Board Chairman Perit Vince Cassar currently in isolation having tested positive for COVID-19, on arrival from the UK. Newsbook.com.mt’s sources asked if the Board was in good health to chair this meeting, a meeting which is now legally prohibited. The same observers noted that, should the sitting be livestreamed, this would still go against the principle of hearing in public since the objectors need to have the possibility for redress.

The Tigné application is part of the Midi project and it was rescheduled to the 26th March having originally been set for a hearing in the 12th March.

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