Times of Malta, 24th July 2008, by Mark Micallef –

Mepa’s decision to schedule Lija’s main avenue, rectifying an anomaly in the local plans, has set an important precedent for all of Malta, the town’s mayor, Ian Castaldi Paris, said yesterday, encouraging other local councils not to be discouraged when taking on similar planning battles.

“We were being told that we were fighting a big monster,” he said as he described the legal battle launched by the local council against the anomaly in the local plan, which allowed the main avenue leading to the town centre to be developed up to three floors plus penthouse, “but now we’ve got the results.”

Flanked by the other councillors, all clearly pleased with the outcome, Dr Castaldi Paris said he was very happy with the outcome.

In line with the council’s call, the entire length of the town’s main avenue, as well as the historic Villa Gourgion, was listed last week in a move that effectively signals the end of the contentious permit for an apartment block close to the landmark Belvedere.

The development, a block of eight flats and penthouse on four floors, complete with underlying garages, closer than 20 metres from the Belvedere, was approved last September to the dismay of residents and the local council.

Mepa has now changed its mind. The new decision will effectively nullify the development permits for this and another development down the road – which is already well under way.

The architect for the development closest to the Belvedere, Robert Musumeci, has already warned that his clients will be seeking compensation for the revenue lost, now that they will not be able to build the apartment block they had been given a permit for.

The local plan for the area, approved last year, curiously excluded from the village core the road leading from the Belvedere to the church and specifically highlighted this zone for three storeys and penthouse.

Dr Castaldi Paris said the council always believed in its arguments because it had not been properly consulted when the local plans were approved. In fact, the previous mayor, Magda Magri Naudi, said there had been only one meeting concerning the local plans, and none of the suggestions made by the council were actually taken up.

“Quite the opposite, really. They did exactly the opposite of what we suggested,” another councillor, Catherine Abela, said.

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar coordinator Astrid Vella, who has lent a hand to the council over the past year or so, said many local councils complained of similar situations. In fact, she hopes that the decision taken in connection with the Lija avenue would be repeated in other cases, some of which relating to irregularities.