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Top News • 11 July 2007

Ulysses Lodge – ‘one villa bad, 23 villas good’

James Debono


The Malta Environment and Planning Authority turned down in 1995 an application to develop a single villa and a swimming pool in the same area where MEPA has now approved 23 villas and a corresponding number of swimming pools, this newspaper can confirm.
The 1995 decision against the development was re-confirmed by MEPA in October 1996, after the original developers asked for a reconsideration, and proposed conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment – the same study which has since become a requirement according to EU Directives, but which was waived in the case of the 2007 decision.
While the development proposed in 1995 covered a floor space of 423 square metres, the development approved in 2007 covers a massive area of 7,600 square metres.
By the time of going to press, MEPA did not reply to questions about how it was possible to turn down a development permit for one villa, only to later approve a permit for 23 villas on the same site.
The differences between the two application permits do not stop there. Alarmingly, the case officer report for the 1995 application states that the area where the 23 villas are now set to rise “is geomorphologically unstable.”
According to the report nearby constructions and the farmhouse where the villa was proposed display a number of cracks and fissures which cannot be simply attributed to neglect. The report states that the “instability of the area” was confirmed by geomorphologist Dr Chris O. Hunt.
The project development statement for the development of 23 villas also includes a geomorphologic report. MaltaToday asked MEPA whether the latest report tallies with Dr Chris Hunt’s observations. Again, no reply was forthcoming.
In 1995, MEPA cited various reasons to refuse the application. The lone villa was rejected because structure Plan policy RCO 4 provides that, particularly within Rural Conservation Areas, areas of scenic value will be protected and enhanced. The development of one single villa was considered as a case of “unacceptable urbanisation.”
MEPA also rejected the application because Structure Plan policy RCO 21 prohibits development in areas prone to erosion.
It states that the site is located on the side of a valley and therefore contradicts the structure plan which seeks to prevent soil erosion and encourage the conservation and management of water resources.
Finally, the proposed development was said to conflict with Structure Plan Policy SET 11, which does not permit urban development outside existing and committed built-up areas.
Back in 1995, the developers argued that these points were only valid if no buildings already existed on the site. “However, in this case there is the existing building. The skyline is already established and it will not be altered as to cause any loss of scenic value,” they claimed.
But 12 years ago, MEPA replied that “the proposal does not include only the rehabilitation of the existing building but also an addition by one fourth of the existing footprint besides the addition of a paved area and a swimming pool.”
When they asked MEPA for a reconsideration of its original decision, the developers also expressed their willingness to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment.
This year, MEPA has approved 14 swimming pools outside the boundaries of the existing footprint, after waiving the necessity for an EIA – which, unlike 12 years ago, is now a legal requirement.
The 1995 application was lodged at a time when the property still belonged to John Portelli before it was sold to Emidio Azzopardi and Mario Grech. Contacted by MaltaToday and asked whether he felt that two weights and two measures had been applied in this case, Portelli simply wished the best of luck to the new owners and refused to comment.

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