MaltaToday | 17 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 17 August 2008

Lija buffer won’t stop three-storey monster

The planning authority’s (MEPA) decision to create a buffer zone around Lija’s Belvedere tower to limit development in Transfiguration Avenue to two storeys, will not stop the development of a four-storey block just metres away from the tower.
Robert Musumeci, the PN’s Siggiewi mayor and the architect of the project, insists the developers “can still proceed with the works, because the permit remains valid irrespective of any scheduling which comes into effect after a permit is issued.”
Once again MEPA is in a legal quandary after taking a decision to reverse the local plan approved by Environment Minister George Pullicino two years ago.
Previously, the local plan would have changed the entire fabric of the Lija village core by allowing three-storey building with penthouses in Transfiguration Avenue.
A permit for a three-storey apartment block with penthouse was issued just five days before the March elections, despite objections raised by MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Committee which deemed its impact on views of the Lija tower negative.
But following a vociferous campaign led by Lija’s PN mayor Ian Castaldi Paris, MEPA reversed the decision by limiting development in Transfiguration Avenue to two storeys.
But on its own such a decision will not stop the already approved permit.
“The permit remains valid up to March 2013, unless MEPA decides to issue a discontinuance order,” Musumeci told MaltaToday.
In reality MEPA does have the power to stop the development by invoking Article 45(1) of the Development Planning Act. But so far no such notice has been issued.
According to law MEPA may “require any existing use or activity or any works to be discontinued.”
But in such cases MEPA “shall be liable to pay compensation for any losses sustained as a result of the notice.”
Musumeci contends that if such an order is ever received his clients will have to adhere strictly to it.
But he also notes that “this will be the first time in Maltese planning history that a discontinuance order is served in terms of this article.”
Asked whether a decision to schedule takes precedence over a planning permit, Musumeci pointed out that the rule of law is guided by the general principle that “one cannot legislate retroactively.”
“We are sure that MEPA is aware of this principle and consequently my clients are awaiting directions to this effect,” Musumeci told MaltaToday.
In the meantime MEPA would not answer MaltaToday’s simple question, namely whether the decision to schedule supersedes previously issued permits.

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