Exclusive: After Valletta Shop Constructs Illegal Facade, Neighbour Embarks On Eight-Year Battle
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the neighbour
An illegally constructed shop facade in the heart of Valletta led to a next-door neighbour embarking on a hard eight-year legal battle – mainly against the authorities in place to protect such areas.
At this point in time, or at any point throughout this ordeal, Paul* has not been asking for much – only for justice to be served, and for the Planning Authority (PA) to obey its own rules and regulations.
“I’m asking for justice – I deserve justice. I’m not asking for much, no one should be above the law, no one. The PA needs to stick to its own rules and regulations. He didn’t build as was agreed in the plans, he didn’t get approval from the Lands Authority, the plans don’t match, the case officer refused it, and he uglified a road in a World Heritage Site,” Paul told Lovin Malta.
“I’ve been fighting for the truth since 2015. It’s not fair.”
Lovin Malta reached out to the owner of the concerned shop front, however, no comment was provided at the time of publishing.
So where did it all begin?
Situated along Zachary Street in Valletta, the area in question is designated as an Urban Conservation Area, with the city of Valletta itself being a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
The initial plans, which outlined “the removal of a traditional shop front and its replacement with marble cladding and sign” were approved back in February 2015.
However, just a few months later, the PA had already been notified that the development was not executed as outlined in the approved plans – but instead, it was encroaching onto Paul’s doorway. The marble facade had been built much bigger than initially agreed.
At this point, the shop owner attempted to sanction the illegal works, filing an application for full development permission which detailed the “sanctioning of minor changes in shop front as now built from approved design” in November 2015.
But soon after, the case officer report recommended the application for refusal, on the basis that the proposed sanctioning is not acceptable since it conflicts with the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) as well as the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance, and Standards 2015 (DC2015).
By October 2016, the PA had refused the application to sanction the works in question.
But this was far from the end.
In November 2016, the PA sent an enforcement notice to the applicant, asking him to dismantle the works which had already been done, while also starting to impose a number of fines.
But this was to no avail, as the shop facade stood tall and no direct action was ordered to remove the illegal works, with the shop owner attempting to sanction the works once again.
Fast forward to April 2017, Paul realised there was also a false declaration of ownership in the initial application. This also meant that no authorisation had been granted from the Lands Authority. Therefore, Paul sent a legal letter to the PA board to outline the false declaration, directly asking the PA to revoke the permit.
For this reason, the shop owner’s second attempt at sanctioning the illegal works was also rejected.
However, shortly after the shop owner appealed the decision, he was granted full development permission by the PA in August 2017 – even though the facade had been built illegally and what was constructed still did not match the initially approved plans.
Shortly after the permit was granted, Paul stepped in once again, this time appealing the sanctioning decision with the Environmental and Planning Review Tribunal.
By May 2019, the tribunal proceeded to reject his appeal.
But Paul wasn’t going to give up here. He decided to appeal the decision to the Appeals Court, and in January 2020, Judge Mark Chetcuti revoked the Tribunal’s decision, along with the sanctioning of the works, on the basis that the declaration of ownership was false and incorrect.
This was supposed to be the end of this seemingly never-ending saga – but it wasn’t.
Until three years later, the PA hadn’t ordered any form of direct action to remove the illegal marble works from the Zachary Street shop front. Upon questioning the PA about this, Paul was told that there needs to be a direct order “from the very top” to carry out such an action.
And so, Paul decided to take the PA to court, in an attempt to find out why they were not obeying the court orders, after years of battling through all the possible avenues.
This specific court case is still ongoing to this day.
The PA has since argued that the sentence from the Appeals Court could not be enforced – because the magistrate failed to directly order the removal of the constructed shop front in the final decision.
“Why do we go to court? So that we obey the court,” Paul lamented.
This all results in an authority that is failing to listen to the court – an illegal facade stands tall, even though the court explicitly revoked the permit – but no one wants to enforce its removal.
What do you make of such an ordeal? Have you ever experienced anything similar? Get in touch with Sasha at [email protected]