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PR 10/19 | Planning Authority decision is “unfair, irregular and against the principles of natural justice”

Verzjoni bil-Malti

The Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Office of the Ombudsman has found the Planning Authority’s decision to require holders of CTB concessions to sanction or regularise their property to be “unfair, irregular and against the principles of natural justice”.

The Eighth Schedule regarding Category B concessions, referred to as CTB in short, came into force in August 2012. Residential property owners were able to submit an application to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to cover illegal development that fell within specific strict parameters. If approved, the applicant would then be allowed to request permission for alterations and additions to the property, and a Compliance Certificate for the provision of new water and electrical services to the dwelling could be issued.

PA Circular 4/12 points out that CTBs do not have an expiry date. The CTB regulations had the effect of restoring the affected properties’ market value to levels comparable to legal properties of a similar description. As a result, these properties became sellable again, and banks were reassured that the effects of the concession were permanent.

With the coming into force of the Development Planning Act in 2016, the CTB regulations were repealed and no further applications could be submitted. In August 2016, new regulations were published that allowed for the regularisation of various types of illegalities, with no specific parameters, as long as these were not deemed to be an “injury to amenity”.

The Kamra tal-Periti had raised a number of concerns with the new regulations, and had published its position particularly regarding reports from members of the profession that the Planning Authority was requiring holders of CTB concessions to regularise their property, at a much heftier fee than what they had originally paid for the concession.

On the 28th January 2019, the Planning Authority published a Circular titled “Category B Concession (CTB) Explained”. The Circular concludes that when an application for development permission is submitted on a site which is covered by a CTB concession, then the irregularity “needs to either be sanctioned or removed, prior to any processing of the application.  If the illegal development cannot be sanctioned, a regularisation application would need to have been submitted and approved prior to the planning application being confirmed as complete.

The Kamra tal-Periti requested the Ombudsman’s office to investigate this matter in March 2019, outlining its opinion that holders of CTB concessions for minor irregularities were facing serious risks on their investment unless the Planning Authority changed its interpretation of the law. Banks that have taken such properties as security against mortgages are also at risk in case of default, as the value of such properties may be much lower than expected as a result.

In a decision delivered on the 7th May 2019, the Ombudsman’s Office concluded that the above quoted paragraph from the Authority’s Circular “is found to be unfair, irregular and against the principles of natural justice” and ordered the Planning Authority to “withdraw and cancel this part of the Circular to the effect that a new application can be submitted on a site covered by a CTB concession without the need for sanctioning, regularising or removing the illegal works covered by the same CTB concession, as long as no further illegal development has taken place on site.

The Council of the Kamra tal-Periti does not condone illegal development in any way, however once certain rights were granted to property owners in the past these cannot be taken away at a later date, more so when the legal ramifications are wide ranging and potentially serious.

 

DIR 02/19 | Marsamxett Balcony Grant Scheme

Reference is made to the Expression of Interest (EOI) issued by the Planning Authority regarding the Marsamxett Balcony Scheme. Said EOI indicates that only those fees of periti who registered with the Authority will be reimbursed as part of the grant scheme, and this only up to €500.00.

The Kamra tal-Periti was not consulted on this EOI, and has the following observations:

  • This call is unprecedented, since it was never a requirement for periti to register directly with the Authority in order to be on some “list”. All periti, by virtue of their warrant, are eligible to submit applications on behalf of their clients, and do not require any form of endorsement or registration by the Authority.
  • The call guarantees that fees due to the periti who register with the Authority will be reimbursed directly by the Authority, up to the afore-mentioned cap. This means that unless periti are registered with the Authority, reimbursement to the applicant cannot be guaranteed; this cannot be accepted, not least because 80% of the funds come from EU sources. It also means that periti who are not on the list are disadvantaged since their clients cannot claim reimbursement of their fees.
  • The Authority has also taken it upon itself to decide what appears to be the appropriate fees for the services required, by establishing a cap on the amount that would be covered by the fund. In most cases, this will barely cover the fees required to undertake a survey of the property.

The Kamra tal-Periti has communicated with the Planning Authority regarding the above, and was informed that the creation of this register was deemed to  be required because a number of potential applicants were not able to engage periti to submit applications on their behalf, either because of lack of finance or because the periti they approached were not in a position to undertake the services required. The Authority also informed that the Kamra that the amount of fees covered by the grant was determined by the PPCD (Planning and Priorities Co-ordination Division). Despite the Kamra’s objections to the EOI, the Authority has not withdrawn said EOI, and the list of periti who registered is now available online.

Periti are reminded of their obligation at law to enter into a written agreement with their clients regarding the amount of fees due, clearly outlining the services to be carried out and the terms of payment (refer to the Kamra‘s Directive on this matter). Periti are also reminded that they are not obliged to receive payment for their services only after the grant is awarded, but at any time during the provision of the services that they deem fit, and that such dates are to be clearly stipulated in the agreement with the client.

 

Perit Simone Vella Lenicker
President

 

KTP submits its Consultation Reply on the Kottonera Strategy document

The Kamra tal-Periti has submitted its feedback on the Kottonera Strategy document issued by the Cottonera Rehabilitation Committee as part of the public consultation process.

The Council of the Kamra tal-Periti welcomed the proposed Cottonera Strategy Document, which appears to have been prepared through a bottom-up approach which involved the residents, the Local Councils and the various entities which operate with the towns in the region. It is clear that this approach has led Government to have a good understanding of the problems faced by these localities, as well as to understand the various solutions which have been proposed by those who inhabit, or regularly visit, the area.

The Kamra has made four principal proposals in its consultation reply:

  1. Expansion of restoration grants in the Cottonera area
  2. The use of design competitions for the various public projects being proposed in the document to promote excellence in design
  3. The setting up of a Centre for Architecture and the Built Environment in the Cottonera area. Malta is indeed one of the few European countries not to have such a centre.
  4. Nine urban project proposals.

Click here for to read all the public consultation replies and press releases issued by the Kamra in the past few years.

 

DIR 03/18 | Restoration Method Statements

Over the past few months, a number of periti have reported that after having submitted a Restoration Method Statement (RMS) to the Planning Authority, they were requested to submit “a new document, on office letterhead consisting of ONE page ONLY and stating ONLY the following…”. The rest of the request went on to dictate what should be stated in such one-pager.

This is not only unacceptable, but completely unprofessional, apart from undermining the standing of warranted Periti, particularly those specialised in conservation and restoration methodology, to have the content of their reports dictated to them. The RMS is an important tool in ensuring that restoration works are carried out with care and in a professional manner, and there is absolutely no reason for the Planning Authority to make this request, especially when one considers that in most cases the reports are being submitted in accordance with the Terms of Reference issued by the Authority itself (https://www.pa.org.mt/file.aspx?f=23154).

On the other hand, it is to be also noted that the Planning Authority has commented that not all RMS submissions are up to standard, oftentimes containing various mistakes and irrelevant information. It is therefore important that periti ensure that the quality of their submissions is maintained at all times.

The Council of the Kamra tal-Periti has raised its concerns on this matter with the Executive Chairperson of the Planning Authority, who agreed that this practice is unacceptable, while indicating that the Executive Council and the Director of Planning were not aware of this practice. They confirmed they would be issuing instructions to the officers concerned to desist from making further similar requests.

The Council of the Kamra tal-Periti would like to take this opportunity to thank the Executive Chairperson for his immediate action.

The Council has been requested to forward examples of such requests made over the last few months, and periti are therefore invited to forward the relevant application numbers without delay.

Finally, the Council is hereby issuing a Directive to all periti to ignore any further similar requests from the Planning Authority, and to report them immediately to the Council on info@kamratalperiti.org for further action.

 

Planning Authority responds to the Kamra’s concerns about CTBs by citing the funds it has generated as a result

The Planning Authority has responded to the article published by the Kamra on this website regarding the predicament owners of properties covered by CTBs find themselves in as a result of the incorrect interpretation of the law regarding the effects of the concessions they were granted.

As explained in the previous article, property owners who submitted a CTB application to the PA to cover illegal development that fell within specific parameters, together with a payment of €250, were granted the two following concessions, as outlined in PA Circular 4/12:

  1. applications requesting permission for alterations and additions to the same dwelling unit could be accepted (without prejudice to any other requirements); and
  2. a Certificate for the provision of new water / electrical services to the dwelling could be issued as per Article 92 of the Act.

The circular also points out that CTBs do “not have an expiry date“.

The Kamra raised its concerns about the Planning Authority’s insistence that properties covered by a CTB must first be regularised before a new application requesting permission for alterations or additions could be accepted, completely subverting the effects of the CTB, which is a legally acquired right.

In its statement, the Planning Authority confirms that CTBs do not regularise or sanction properties. It also implies that the new regulations are in some way giving people an opportunity by stating that gave the “possibility to holders of CTB concessions to regularize the unauthorized interventions covered by such concessions.” However, it does not comment about various instances where applicants were made to regularise their property, despite being covered by a CTB, and does not comment on the legality or fairness of its unilateral decision not to recognise the concessions granted by CTBs thereby prejudicing owners of such properties, not to mention the banks that have hypothecated such properties as a mortgage security.

The Planning Authority concludes by saying that it “has received 5897 applications for the Regularisation of Development Inside Development Zone from August 2016 until recently. These applications have generated €13,901,159.06 of funds which are distributed as follows: 70% for the Irrestawra Darek scheme, 20% for the Development Planning Fund and 10% for the authority’s administrative expenses in relation to these schemes.”

This would appear to confirm a more cynical explanation as to why the Authority has decided to disregard the legality of CTBs – that its main interest is that of generating funds for the Authority’s schemes rather than seeking equity and fairness.

Members of the public and of the profession are invited to contact the Kamra tal-Periti on info@kamratalperiti.org should they have been compelled or are being compelled into regularising a property covered by a CTB, providing details about their case. All communication will be handled in strict confidence.

Property owners with a CTB concession at risk

CRPD meetings at Planning Authority

The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) has announced that as from 5th March 2018 CRPD representatives will be available for meetings on Wednesdays at the Planning Authority from 7.00am to 3.00pm between October and June and 7:00am to 12.30pm between July and September.

Meetings are strictly by appointment, which are to be made in advance by email on accessibility.vetting@crpd.org.mt

For more information, please contact Ms Marie Barbara on 2226 7600.

 

KTP writes to Minister Bonnici re SCH

The Kamra tal-Periti has written to Minister Owen Bonnici regarding his parliamentary speech on the budget estimates of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. In its letter, the Kamra has acknowledged that the statistics indicating an increase in the volume of planning applications processed by the SCH has increased from 1,099 in 2015 to 5,412 in 2016.

The Kamra pointed out, however, that the statement was “misleading in that the increase is a result of the new legislation which requires the SCH to assess each and every application for development permission, irrespective of its  impact on cultural heritage matters. Prior to the demerger, the SCH only had to deal with those applications that posed a clear and direct threat to our heritage, whereas now it has to assess even the most trivial of applications, thus impacting heavily on its workload.”

The letter states that while the Kamra agrees that in a country as small as ours, many types of development may impact on our village cores and architectural and cultural heritage, we are now in a situation where the SCH is overloaded with applications to assess, to the extent that it is failing to keep up even with those applications that should fall within its direct remit.

The Kamra insisted that the SCH should be given sufficient resources to fulfill its remit and deal with “the immense workload it is faced with on a daily basis”, pointing out that the MEPA demerger has effectively weakened the SCH rather than strengthen it.

KTP offered to meet with Minister Bonnici to discuss the matter in greater depth so that the problems afflicting the SCH may be urgently addressed.

 

Planning Authority Christmas 2017 Shutdown