|The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 May 2008 – by David Lindsay
The would-be developers of the highly controversial Ulysses Lodge site, perched just above Gozo’s Ramla Bay, appear confident of a successful appeal hearing in July, with work clearing the site of shrubbery and trees ongoing this week.Last October, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority DCC board unanimously rejected the developers’ planning application, but an appeals hearing on the case is to be heard on 11 July.
While the site had remained unkempt and practically abandoned for years, the fact that land clearing work was in progress this week is indicative that the developers believe they have a good case to present to the appeals board
The proposed development of the site sparked an enormous public outcry last summer, and the project’s detractors fear the developers have found a way around the sticking point that had denied them a development permit last year, which they will be pitching to the appeals board in July.
Mepa had rejected the development application on a technicality in that a road, classified as government land, cuts through the centre of the property. The developers, however, had claimed that they owned the whole property
When Mepa approved the full development application on 6 June 2007, it had included a particular condition in the permit binding the applicant to enter into a public deed with the authority.
Mepa introduced this condition to ensure that the tourist complex would not eventually be transformed into a residential area or that any part of the development would be sold.
But if the land covered by the permit is not fully owned by the applicant, the condition, Condition 11, is not fulfilled and the permit is no longer valid. Since the public road cuts through the land, the proposed developers did not own the entire proposed site.
Architect Lino Bianco had filed an official request in July, after drawing up a detailed report, for Mepa to withdraw the outline development permit.
Mr Bianco, an environmental planning consultant, requested Mepa to annul the outline development permit issued, invoking Article 39A on the basis that false information on the site’s ownership was provided by the developers.
Article 39A of the Development Planning Act states that “the authority may, where there are cases of fraud, error on the face of the record or an issue of public safety, withdraw or modify a permit which has been approved.”
The site’s owners had applied for the demolition of the existing tourist and entertainment complex, known as Ulysses Lodge, and the construction of 23 self-catering villa-style residential units with underground parking spaces, sub-stations and pools. The site in question covers an area of around 40,000 square metres on a clay slope below the Xaghra plateau and just above what is one of Gozo’s most picturesque spots.