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MALTATODAY 19 February 2023

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 19 FEBRUARY 2023 JAMES DEBONO THE owners of an illegally-con- structed yard on a 9,000sq.m site near Siggiewi's falconry centre in Ta' Żgamardi have once again presented a planning application to regularise offices, stores and parking areas for its trucks as well as photovoltaic panels and a batching plant. Univest Enterprises, a com- pany owned by developer Ja- son Mifsud, had submitted two similar applications in 2019 and 2020, both of which were withdrawn following the screening process undertak- en by the Planning Authority (PA). An enforcement order issued by the PA against the illegal- ities issued in 2018 following reports by MaltaToday is still in force, with the owners liable to daily fines of up to €50. But the PA is precluded from removing illegalities when an application to regularise them is still being processed. Unlike previous applications, the latest one – submitted by architect and former PN environment minister George Pullicino – in- cludes plans for PV panels and the restoration of part of the site illegally developed in 2018, back to agricultural land, and a "temporary" batching plant that will run for 10 years. In 2018, the PA issued an en- forcement order ordering the owners to stop works and re- instate the field to its original state within 15 days of notice, on pain of a daily fine. The list of illegalities included the excavation of soil, demolition and removal of several bound- ary walls, change of use from an agricultural site to parking of heavy construction vehicles, and storage of steel rods used for prefab concrete. Subsequently, the developer not only applied to sanction the illegalities, but raised the stakes by applying for a full- blown batching plant. The ap- plication was later withdrawn, with a new one presented in 2020 with added landscaping to mitigate the visual impact of the development. But even this withdrawn, and then resubmit- ted in 2022. The Environment and Re- sources Authority is strongly objecting to the latest appli- cation, noting the significant take-up of undeveloped rural land, and the loss of traditional features that will accommodate industrial-type development in an area that is outside the de- velopment zones (ODZ). The ERA said such use was incompatible with rural sur- roundings, and such plants should only be developed in designated industrial areas or so-called areas of containment, to control and reduce their proliferation in the rural land- scape. It described the succes- sive attempts to formalise the area as a "major concern". 20-year saga of illegality The site has a long history of planning irregularities dating back to 2004. Aerial photos confirm the ar- ea was entirely agricultural in 1998, but gradually developed over the past years, substan- tially in 2018. In 2004, an enforcement or- der was issued against a stand- ing stone wall without permit and excavation works. A reg- ularisation request was denied in 2006. 18 years later the case is still listed as "active". In 2008, the PA issued another enforcement order on the con- struction of a large warehouse, garages, stables and boundary walls without permit. The case is still listed as "active" and subject to daily fines. Owner Epiphanio Mifsud ap- pealed the enforcement order, which was turned down by the PA's appeals tribunal in 2011. Another sanctioning request was dismissed by the PA and confirmed on appeal in 2013. Indeed, rules were introduced in 2011 stopping the PA from regularising ODZ development that had taken place after 2008. But these rules were reversed in 2014, allowing developers to request the sanctioning of their ODZ illegalities. Still, the con- version of agricultural land for industrial uses is not foreseen by the PA's rural policy rules, making such an approval high- ly questionable. 20 years later, illegal Siggiewi yard still wants permit Pristine agricultural area at Ta' Żgamardi transformed by illegalities over two decades laid bare in aerial photos Aerial photos show how this agricultural plot, from way back in 2006 (first photo), was slowly turned into a parking lot for heavy vehicles (in 2012) and now has extended further into the entire agricultural plot (2018)

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