Ramla permit revoked: developer says he won't give up - http://www.maltastar.com/
Aleander Balzan
Thu, 04 October 2007

The tables are turned, as Mepa backtracked on an earlier decision and revoked the permit for the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra, as it admitted that this authorisation was based on fraudulent information.

Environmentalists are ecstatic. But their success may be a victorious battle, most probably aided by the approaching general election, but it is not the end of the war. On Thursday, as he was trying to convince the Mepa board not to revoke the permit, the developer made it clear that he will not give up. In fact, he announced he will be suing the authority to get back his permit.

The developer’s lawyers themselves argued that the developer still has the option of re-applying for his mega project on the slopes leading to the picturesque Gozitan bay. Yet, this time round, he would simply leave out the small portion of government land, which was originally included in the developer's plans. This public ownership of this pocket of government land was the objectors' main premise supporting their call for the revocation of the permit issued a few months ago. The developer’s lawyers stated that this bit of land constitutes only 1.5% of the whole footprint of their construction project.

Moreover, the Nationalist Party in government, through declarations by its ministers and MPs, has voiced its support for the construction project at Ramla l-Hamra, a position which it has not yet rebuffed. The Gozo Minister herself publicly stated her support to the project. As long as the Nationalist Party refrains from admitting its mistaken stance, the developer will have more reason to re-apply for a new permit.

In truth, the permit was not withdrawn because the authority realised the extensive environmental damage such a project was about to inflict, but because one objector, the Save Ramla committee, shrewdly found a technical glitch in the application process.

Thursday’s decision to revoke permits 5138/02 (outline development) and 7902/05 (full development permit) was based on article 39A of the Development Planning Act, an article that Mepa rarely resorts to.

Article 39 A states that the “authority may, where there are cases of fraud, error on the face of the record o an issue of public safety, withdraw or modify a permit which has been approved.”

In fact, the Ramla Hamra saga took a different twist on 28 July, when an environmental planning consultant commissioned by the ‘Save Ramla Committee’, led by Carmen Bajada, a Xaghra Labour councillor, sent Mepa a report arguing that parts of the property on which the villas where being built is public property. He found out that some of the villas will be built on a stretch of land earmarked as a public pathway owned by the Lands Department.

On Thursday, the consultant, Architect Lino Bianco, proved that the land is public by presenting a copy of the application by the Lands Department to register government property in the area.

Thus, Bianco insisted that developers might have defrauded Mepa by giving “false, misleading or incorrect” information.

Applicant claims he owns the land

During Thursday’s meeting, which lasted around two hours, the applicant, represented by his lawyers and architects, argued that the land in question was indeed his.

He insisted that the revocation decision is unjust as the MEPA directorate was suggesting this on the false presumption that the government owns the land.

The applicant’s architect insisted he will continue to claim the land is not public and he also stated that the applicant will start legal procedures to prove his case. Lino Bianco contradicted him by referred to a development application presented in 1984. This application included nearly the same land but left out the contested part.

During the discussion prior to the Mepa board’s decision, it was also revealed that the applicant has no intentions of giving up his project. In fact another possible solution mentioned by the applicant’s lawyer, is that of a new application leaving out the contested part, which amounts to just 1.5% of the total project.

Meanwhile, the environmentalist lobby welcomed the board decision. During the past months environmentalist organised various protests against this development, claiming it will cause disastrous environmental damage to the area, which lies metres away from two protected sites, including one recognised by the EU for its ecological significance.

The Xaghra Local Council and Labour also backed the environmentalists’ lobby. In fact, Labour leader Dr Alfred Sant promised that once in government Labour would resort to all actions permissible by law to stop the building of the 23 villas with pools that the developer wants.

A project backed by PN officials

When the MEPA board decided on the original application it was only Labour representative Joe Brincat who voted against. Joe Falzon, the Nationalist Party (PN) representative sitting on the same board, voted in favour of the project. Giovanna Debono and George Pullicino, the Nationalist ministers for Gozo and the Environment, also expressed themselves in favour of the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra.

Members of Parliament Frederick Azzopardi and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando also remarked that they saw nothing wrong in the project.

An investigation by the Mepa auditor also revealed that Leonard Callus, who forms part of the Mepa board on behalf of the Prime Minister (he also forms part of the Prime Minister’s private secretariat), was asked to intervene on behalf of the developers, and was even present during a meeting between the developers and Mepa officials.

When the permit was issued, Callus too had voted in favour of the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra.
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04 Oct 2007 by Saveramla.com