The Court of Appeal has accepted a challenge by residents against the proposed high rise development on Xemxija ridge, orderning the Environment and Planning Tribunal to re-assess the permit in question.
In its decision, the Court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, revoked the EPRT’s rejection of the appellant’s requests and allow the permit to remain unchanged.
The Court’s assessment hinged on the question of “commitment”.
The Court disagreed with the Tribunal’s decision that a notice of commencement of works is enough to prove commitment.
It pointed out that the law also requires an assessment of whether the development works have reached a point which prohibit the consideration of laws, plans and policies introduced after the permit was issued, since such consideration would “seriously prejudice” the work already done.
However, there was practically no work conducted on the site of the former Mistra Village until late March 2023, despite the permit being issued back in 2013 (and published in 2014).
The Court stated that the Tribunal did not consider this issue with a “factual lens”, and therefore “wrongly applied” the law in question.
It therefore ordered the Tribunal to re-assess whether the permit in question has been “committed”, and if not, whether or not it is “compatible” with the laws, plans and policies in place today.
Since the permit was issued, there has been a raft of new planning legislation, including the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 (better-known as DC15), and the Floor-Area Height Poolicy (FAR).
Significantly, the latter completely bans any high rise development on ridges – whereas the Mistra site is located on Xemxija Ridge.
The question now is whether the flurry of activity conducted on the site over the last month and a half constitute commitment.
The rapid onset of works weeks before the Court was due to make its final decision was slammed as “greed and arrogance” by environmental organisations.
In a speech delivered at a Labour Party mass meeting on Workers’ Day, 1st May, Prime Minister Robert Abela indicated that reforms that will prevent construction to start if the permit is still being contested in court or in front of the EPRT.
“Does it make sense that planning law allows construction work to start when the permit is still being contested in front of the tribunal or the law courts?” he asked.
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This is the third time the Constitutional Court ruled against the FIAU in four months