In my previous blog post, I discussed the Cabinet’s intention to transition towards automatic suspensions in cases where planning permissions are under appeal.
Currently, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) has the authority to order the suspension of permits under Article 33(3) of the EPRT Act (Chapter 551 of the Laws of Malta). This occurs when the Tribunal believes that not granting the suspension could potentially result in disproportionate harm compared to the harm caused by delaying the permit’s execution, especially when the development cannot be easily reversed.
The significant advantage of suspensions, benefiting all parties involved, is the requirement for resolution within a three-month timeframe, as opposed to the standard one-year duration, which can extend to 18 months.
One might think that as long as the three-month timeframe rule is in effect, the new solution might only delay permit execution (assuming there is no revocation) by three months.
In practice, however, tribunal decisions can be appealed to the court of appeal (inferior jurisdiction) on points of law. To be fair, the chief justice presiding over these cases typically acts swiftly and often ensures that the case is deliberated upon and a decision is made after the first sitting. Nevertheless, even with the expedited process under the chief justice’s purview, it might take an additional four months from the tribunal’s decision for a case to be resolved, factoring in time for the appeal, response, appointment of the first sitting, deliberation during that same first sitting, and the judge’s decision-writing time.
Moreover, it’s essential to remember that decisions of the court of appeal can be subjected to retrial, as per Article 811 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Admittedly, this is an exceptional measure, and decisions are rarely overturned. However so, it is not entirely implausible for retrials to occur, as exemplified by a case currently undergoing retrial and awaiting a date in the DB decision.
If the concerned objector chooses to initiate a retrial, they are granted a three-month window following the decision of the appellate court to determine whether to proceed with the retrial. Subsequently, the retrial procedure itself may require a minimum of five months before the case is appointed and a verdict is rendered.
In summary, when considering all these factors, permits involving objectors who opt for the full process, assuming all current timeframes remain consistent, might necessitate an additional year and a half before construction can commence after the permit is initially issued.
With that said, ultimately, this approach may prove to be beneficial for all parties involved. The sole issue arises when frivolous appeals are employed to harm applicants intentionally. I may consider dedicating another blog post to address this matter.