The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) Board has concluded its investigation into the processing and granting of a development planning permit for the extension of the Tal-Virtu Seminary school in Rabat.
In January, the Board called for a thorough examination to be carried out into this case, following the publication of the Auditor’s report. The Audit Officer Perit Joseph Falzon, had concluded that the development application was not assessed in accordance with the approved policies and procedures, that both the case officer and the Area Team Manager had misled the DCC and that appropriate action had to be taken in their regard.
After evaluating the conclusions of the Auditor’s report, the MEPA Board guided the Director of Planning to carry out a thorough evaluation of the policies and procedures adopted, which had to include the opportunity for both the case officer and team manager to give an explanation on their actions and report back to the Board.
On evaluating the motions of this case, the MEPA Board noted that the Archbishop’s Seminary, as applicant, was one of the schools which had opted for structural expansion under ‘The Education Reform Project’ to provide for the transition of students from primary to secondary school. This application was assessed in the light of this National Policy which MEPA is obliged to follow and which supersedes the approved Local Plan, even though the Local Plan had foreseen the ‘genuine need’ for further expansion. Therefore, the Board noted that there was sufficient evidence to support the siting of this project.
The Board also agreed that it was not the planning directorate’s role to assess the traffic impact that the proposed expansion would have on the area, when the competent Authority on traffic is Transport Malta. The MEPA Board was satisfied that Transport Malta was consulted in full and not only did it not request a Traffic Impact Statement but it found no objection to the development. MEPA cannot and should not enter into the remit of other Regulatory Authorities.
The MEPA Board noted that it was satisfied that given the site’s high landscape value, the Authority had requested the applicant to modify its plans to minimize the footprint, terrace the development down and retain as much as possible the existing distance from the ridge edge.
The Board also remarked that prior to the recent heritage findings, following excavation works, there were no records in the area attributed to archaeological remains or the need for precautionary constraints in the area which could have alerted the case officer to include in his assessment.
Additionally, the MEPA Board commented that the DCC was never misled but was fully cognizant of the facts, aided by the acknowledged inventory of policies in the DPAR and the plans and documents in the file, to enable it to take a decision which went opposite to what the neighbours wanted.
The Board pointed out that the Auditor’s report, for fairness sake, should have noted that the complainants, who are neighbors to the Seminary, had the right and every opportunity to submit an official objection not once but twice during the processing of this application - two opportunities which they did not take advantage of but sought to remedy this dual lapse in other ways.
After closely examining the application process, the explanation given by the case officer and team manager, the evaluation carried out by the Director of Planning and the content of the recommendation together with the decision making process by the DCC, the main MEPA Board unanimously exonerated both the case officer and the Team Manager from any wrong doing or abuse in their assessment of this planning application and concluded that ‘the case was satisfactorily concluded.’