Times of Malta, 28th Feb 2008, by Matthew Xuereb and Mark Micallef – The entire board of the Development Control Commission (A) resigned yesterday shortly after the release of a report describing its decision to approve a supermarket in Safi on land outside development zone as “gross irregularity”.

The verdict was given by Mepa’s audit officer Joe Falzon following a complaint filed by Alternattiva Demokratika.

AD held a press conference in which it made public the document – which was passed over to it as the complainant – and called on the members of the DCC to resign and on Environment Minister George Pullicino to assume political responsibility for what has happened and initiate proceedings to withdraw the permit.

At about 5 p.m., the whole board, made up of six members and chaired by Phillip Azzopardi, suspended an ongoing sitting and presented a letter of resignation to Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja, declaring themselves aggrieved with the audit officer’s verdict.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Calleja confirmed the resignation, saying he will refer the matter to the Prime Minister who technically appoints such members.

Asked to comment on the matter, Mr Calleja referred to the comments made by Mepa in the audit officer’s report, adding he had full confidence in the members of the board.

He said they had felt aggrieved by the fact that the justification for their decisions, which they had communicated to the audit officer, were brushed aside inexplicably.

The project, which belongs to Polidano Brothers, forms part of the European Lidl franchise, a supermarket chain that operates about 5,000 stores in over 17 countries.

All the members of the DCC voted in favour of the proposed development despite a recommendation for refusal by the Planning Directorate.

In his report, Mr Falzon essentially reached two conclusions: That the site was outside development zone and, therefore, the permit should never have been issued and that since the project was so extensive it should have been covered by an environmental impact assessment.

AD’s spokesman on sustainable development, Carmel Cacopardo said AD had originally asked the Mepa auditor to investigate the proposed development in St John Street, Safi.

In his report, the Mepa auditor said the approval gave rise to “the most serious concern” since the DCC “chose to ignore all the relevant approved policies and approve an application without in any way justifying its actions based on approved policies”.

He also queried why the DCC had failed to consider the possibility that this type of development needed an environmental impact assessment, and recommended an amendment to the Development Planning Act through which an approved permit can be modified or withdrawn if a permit is issued against official policies.

Mr Cacopardo said the DCC members should shoulder the responsibility of this “illegal” decision and resign, while AD chairman Harry Vassallo said his party is prepared to initiate legal action if the permit is not withdrawn.