Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud tabled a copy of the report over Comino road works, together with correspondence between his office and the Planning Authority, stating that the latter said “it will not adopt the recommendations that deal with such a sensitive zone.”
On 27 April, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Ombudsman’s office concluded his report over the roadwork which took place between February and March on Comino, stating that it was illegal. The works in question were conducted by a contractor engaged by the Ministry for Gozo, and took place in the road that leads to the Blue Lagoon in Comino.
The Ombudsman had looked into the matter after PN MP Robert Cutajar, who is the Opposition Speaker for the Environment and Climate Change, had filed a complaint on the issue.
The Commissioner had said that the service culvert which was being constructed does not qualify as a work of emergency and that no permission from the Planning Authority (PA) was published for the said works.
The Ombudsman recommended that the PA should publish a notice to stop the works in question. The Ombudsman also suggested that this site should be reverted to its original state, where certain interventions are reversible. Apart from this, the PA should fine the offenders and place the money gathered in a fund for the safeguarding of Comino. The Ombudsman also suggested that if a service culvert is to be constructed, the PA should ensure that it is covered by a full development application and that a certain degree of consultancy takes place.
The Planning Authority had, following the final opinion issued by the Commissioner, written that there is ‘divergence; in the understanding and application of a particular Planning law. The legal article in question specifies that “emergency works in relation to public safety carried out by Government does not constitute development. As such the Planning Authority cannot impose conditions or place limitations on the type of works that can take place, since these works do not constitute development and as such does not need a development permit. In this case, the Gozo Ministry made a declaration that the emergency works on this road are needed and as such all work that needs to be done on it does not constitute development.
The PA also argued that the article should not be interpreted as placing the obligation on the Authority to determine if development classifies as ’emergency works in relation to public safety carried out by Government’. It argued that the law does not provide for this.
Turning to the culvert, the PA argued that a project like this must be seen as a whole not in parts.
The PA said that the government’s declaration that the emergency works are for public safety incorporate all the works needed along the road, “irrespective of the individual components, given that these works do not constitute development, the PA finds that the works of a service culvert do not need planning permission.”
The Planning Commissioner responded to the PA’s letter. The Commissioner expressed his disagreement with the PA’s statements and his disappointment at the way the Authority acted on this case. “It was clear that I was only referring to the service culvert works.
The Commissioner highlighted that a year ago the ministry consulted the PA on urgent works, but did not do so when the service culvert was added.
“The PA should have acted itself when it found out that the works were going beyond what was indicated more than a year ago, when the service culvert was added just before works began earlier this year.”
With regards to the article in question, that “emergency works in relation to public safety carried out by Government” does not constitute development, the Commissioner said that it does not include the phrase “and all other related works.”
The Commissioner said that the PA’s argument could lead to serious abuse “where one can use this article to conduct works that go beyond the legislator’s intention.”
The Commissioner said that his recommendations should be adopted by the Authority.