On the 30th June 2016, the Planning Board refused permission for a ‘destination port comprising a hotel, a yacht marina and a tourist village’ in Hondoq ir-Rummien, Qala (Gozo). The application was submitted to the then Malta Environment and Planning Authority back in 2002.
In order to justify its decision, the Board cited the following reasons for refusal:
1. The proposal would result in a dense urban development within a designated coastal rural area, hence in breach of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) which seeks to locate urban development within committed built areas and to protect rural and coastal areas from incompatible uses;
2. The proposed development ran counter to Thematic Objective 1.10 and to Rural Objective 4 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development in terms of land-use in that the proposal was not considered legitimate or necessary within the rural area;
3. The type, scale and density of the proposed development went beyond what was considered acceptable in terms of Policies GZ-Qala-3 and GZ-Qala-4 of the Gozo and Comino Local Plan ‘to rehabilitate the damaged landscape resulting from the past quarrying activity in Hondoq ir-Rummien and to provide basic beach amenities in the area’;
4. Due to its ecological and social impacts, the proposed marina was not compatible with the intentions of the Local Plan’s Policy GZ-TRAN-13 to provide destination ports around the Gozitan coast in order to improve the tourism product, upgrade facilities for boating and yachting while protecting the environmental resources;
5. The development was incompatible with the natural characteristics of the area and with ‘the current informal recreational use of Hondoq ir-Rummien Bay’;
6. Transport Malta had objected to the proposed development due to the envisaged traffic impact.
In reaction, applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his appeal submissions, applicant, now appellant, argued that he was denied a fair hearing. The Tribunal was reminded that the Authority had directed applicant to commission a multitude of costly ‘reports, studies and assessments’. Fourteen years on, applicant was served with the case officer’s report, recommending a refusal and was given only ten days to lodge his counter arguments. The public hearing went on as scheduled despite the ‘vast majority’ of experts who were involved in compiling the studies could not attend due to the short notice. Applicant therefore contended that the Authority had acted in breach of his fundamental human rights since he was not given adequate opportunity to prepare his case.
In reply, the Authority countered that applicant was present for the hearing, adding that at no point was he denied the opportunity to put forward his arguments
In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the planning application was submitted in 2002. Reference was made to Regulation 3 c of Legal Notice 162 of 2016 which inter alia states that for those applications that were validated prior to 2011 (such as the application under review, which was submitted in 2002) ‘the applicant shall be informed by a letter from the Executive Chairperson stating that the provisions of the 2010 Development Planning (Procedure for Applications and their Determination) Regulations apply’.
In this case, it transpired that the Executive Chairperson had failed to send the said letter as required by law. Instead, applicant was served with the case officer’s report. Against this background, the Authority’s Chairperson was ordered to send the letter to applicant, reminding him that his case would be reassessed in line with the previous 2010 procedural regulations. A decision shall be taken thereafter.