The summer months were hell for Xemxija residents. They had to bear continuous excavation works at the former Mistra Village site, notwithstanding that during the summer months such works ought to have been on hold in terms of a tourism related restriction. These works are the cause of nuisance not just to tourists but more to residents in view of both excessive noise and the continuous generation of dust.
Unfortunately, the authorities do not care. Their priorities continuously prefer the building construction industry to the residential community. It is only when they are faced with a serious accident that they try to give the impression that they care. Their crocodile tears, reforms and public inquiries impress no one, nowadays.
The Planning Authority website informs us that the current development planning permit (PA 6747/18) for the Mistra Village project is valid until the 29 April 2024.
It was approved in February 2019 and renews a previous permit. Its validity has been contested by Xemxija residents through a planning appeal. The point at issue is that applicable land use planning policies, had, in the meantime, changed. Yet the planning authority rubberstamped a renewed development planning permit notwithstanding that it is obliged in terms of the Development Planning Act to reassess the original application if no works have been taken in hand.
The case ended up at the Court of Appeal, which, on 10 May 2023 identified this shortcoming and sent the case back to be re-examined by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT). In his judgement, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti pointed out that the presentation by the developer of a commencement notice, on its own, is not sufficient proof that the site is committed. Actual proof of commitment is required. As a result, it is therefore questionable whether such an application for renewal should be exempted from being re-examined by the Planning Authority in the light of new policies.
This is the reason, as a result of which, suddenly, excavation works were taken in hand almost round-the-clock!
Perusal of the Planning Authority website reveals that the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) only authorised the commencement of excavation works in March 2023 just a few weeks before the Chief Justice delivered his verdict, and many months after the permit was actually renewed. The Planning Authority assesses applications haphazardly, continuously favouring developers and ignoring those factors which contribute to a realistic critical analysis of what is being proposed.
In addition, no one is monitoring the excessive noise and dust generated as a result of the development in hand. The noise and dust are causing neighbours in the residential area surrounding the site, unnecessary stress and distress.
All this is being done in order to build more flats and penthouses, a substantial number of which will remain vacant or underutilised, even if sold.
St Paul’s Bay, which is home to Mistra Village at Xemxija, has 37.3 per cent of its residential units which are either vacant or else underutilised. (Mellieħa is in close second place with 36 per cent of its housing stock in the vacant/underutilised category). The 2021 Census report on residential property published recently identified 7,377 flats and penthouses in St Paul’s Bay which, on Census Day, were either vacant or underutilised. Underutilisation meaning that the property is being used as a secondary residence or for seasonal accommodation.
Where do we go from here?
Part of the current mess would have been avoided if no works commence prior to the conclusion of land use planning appeal proceedings.
The problems however run much deeper than that. The authorities generally act prejudicially in favour of development and developers. It is an almost unconscious attitude which is deeply ingrained within the DNA of the authorities. Residents are considered as a nuisance. They are generally ignored and rarely factored into policies and decisions taken.
At the end of the day, it is no wonder that development and developers run roughshod over our residential communities. They are aware that the authorities are pre-programmed in their favour.
What we need is not just a behavioural change within the institutions. Change within the institutional DNA is the urgent requirement. Maybe having the residents themselves take the decisions on the actual permissible development in their neighbourhood is what is really required. Then we will have the required change. As the authorities do not care.
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 1 October 2023