A temporary Sliema car park, the dust from which has fuelled numerous complaints, will not be allowed to operate beyond July 2017 unless it is covered by a full development permit.
This was confirmed by a Planning Authority spokesman, who said new regulations enacted this year no longer allowed such a facility to be run through a simple development notification order, a fast track procedure used for minor developments.
Located in Tower Road, in front of the iconic Villa Drago, which formerly served as the Libyan Embassy, the car park was opened a couple of years ago on the site where the Regina Hotel stood. The hotel used to be a popular weddings venue in the 1960s but it became an eyesore after it was pulled down about a decade ago.
A development permit was issued in 2014 for a four-star hotel on the site, but works have yet to start. Instead, the developer opted to convert the open space into a temporary parking facility bearing the name of the old hotel and to lay gravel over the surface.
Heavy use of the site meant the gravel has been crushed and reduced to dust, becoming a source of constant inconvenience, especially on windy days.
Replying to questions from the Times of Malta, the Planning Authority spokesman noted that the applicant had not been obliged to pave the area because he had been instructed to restore it to its original state. He pointed out, however, that a development notification order, which was set to expire in July 2017, could no longer be renewed.
The spokesman said: “This permitted development cannot be extended further through a development notification order under the remit of LN 211/16. Any fresh request requires a full development permit application, summary procedure, as defined in the new Development Planning Act 2016, LN 162/16, type 6 development.”
Under this procedure, a notice would be displayed on site, and the application would then be published in The Malta Government Gazette together with a 15-day public consultation timeframe in which objections could be raised, the spokesman said.
When contacted, Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop admitted he was surprised, saying such information had not been communicated to the council despite its having raised this issue with the planning watchdog before. In fact, the council is due to seek redress before a planning tribunal in a last ditch attempt to address the dust pollution complaints.
“We have been left in a quandary, and our last weapon is to file an appeal demanding that the developers asphalt the car park or else the Planning Authority would not extend the facility’s permit for another year,” Mr Chircop said.
He lamented that the authorities seemed to be turning a blind eye to their complaints. Noting that the planning watchdog persistently refused to go into the merits of the case, stating that the facility was covered by a development notification order, Mr Chircop said even public health authorities had not been forthcoming
“To our surprise, the public health authorities told us that they would only take action in case somebody were to produce a medical report highlighting the hazard posed by such activity,” the mayor said.
On a positive note, he welcomed the announcement that the facility would need a full development permit to be allowed to remain open, adding that this would allow the council to voice its concerns on the matter.
Nevertheless, Mr Chircop continued, the council would still forge ahead with its plan to seek redress through the Environment Planning Tribunal.