PA shelves deadline for planning applications on extended building zones

The circular was issued in December 2012 and told owners of the land on which development could take place thanks to the ‘rationalisation’ exercise of six years earlier

A spokesperson for the PA did not give any reason why this circular was shelved but confirmed “that there is no deadline until which owners can apply to set the parameters for rationalisation sites through PC applications”.
A spokesperson for the PA did not give any reason why this circular was shelved but confirmed “that there is no deadline until which owners can apply to set the parameters for rationalisation sites through PC applications”.

The Planning Authority has officially shelved a circular it had issued to landowners seeking permits under the 2006 extension of Malta’s building zones, giving them just six months to request the parameters for their planning permits.

The circular was issued in December 2012 and told owners of the land on which development could take place thanks to the ‘rationalisation’ exercise of six years earlier, that they had just six months to set planning parameters.

Since 2013, the owners of some 175 plots added to the development zones in 2006 have presented 34 planning control applications. The PA received 62 applications before 2013, and has now yet to process the parameters for what type of planning can take place on 79 sites.

Before requesting a development permit, owners of the land added to the development zones must present a ‘planning control application’ to set the zoning, building heights and road network for each site.

A spokesperson for the PA did not give any reason why this circular was shelved but confirmed “that there is no deadline until which owners can apply to set the parameters for rationalisation sites through PC applications”.

In December 2012, just before the start of the electoral campaign, the PA informed owners of rationalisation plots that they had till June 2013 to apply for a planning control permit. Failure to comply would not have resulted in the land being spared from development, or with the PA setting its own planning control process for the lands.

Sources in the PA said the circular had been meant to kick-start construction activity at a time of a downturn in activity: dwelling permits had shrunk from a record 11,343 in 2007 to just 3,064 in 2012.

“It was also meant to discourage owners from hoarding the land while bringing closure to a controversial process which has dragged on since 2006,” a PA source told MaltaToday.

A MaltaToday probe published in August 2018 revealed that the Planning Authority is still assessing applications by private developers to set zoning rules for 23 different pockets of land included in development boundaries in 2006.

Since than even more applications have been presented, including very controversial ones in Qrendi next to the Torri tal-Kaptan and in the Nigret area of Zurrieq.

Zurrieq residents objecting to an application by developer Anton Camilleri in the Nigret area are disputing the legality of the application, citing the 2012 circular. They have also asked the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage to assess the value of what residents describe as a “curious structure in the middle of a field” which could have served as a medieval dwelling or hut.

The Planning Authority has also categorically told MaltaToday it has no intention of accepting requests extend the development zones beyond the 2006 boundaries. “Planning Control applications which propose extensions to the Development Zone cannot be considered favourably,” the PA spokesperson said.

Only recently, the company CA&S Limited requested that some 14,000 square metres of agricultural land on Labour avenue in Zabbar be included in the development zones; a similar request for a 3,000sq.m field in Ghasri was also presented.

Development in ODZ areas has been mainly restricted to a range of developments permitted by the 2014 rural policy, which apart from developments related to agriculture also allows the redevelopment of ruins from older buildings.

More infrequently, development can be allowed in so-called “infill sites” found between existing residential developments.

But upon election in 2013, Labour embarked on a revision of the 2006 local plans, attracting 7,000 submissions from the public which however was left uncompleted. The former parliamentary secretary for planning, Michael Falzon, had justified tweaking the boundaries by accusing the former government of being “creative” in including certain lands, but not others.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had also toyed with the idea of compensating for the additions to the building zones, by taking away land presently located in development zones. But PA sources said the government was having cold feet as the process could leave certain landowners out.

And with the environment rising in public opinion concerns, the government may be wary of further controversy.

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