Following the Planning Authority’s approval of a Gozitan developer’s plan to build a villa in the countryside of Qala, eyes are starting to focus on one of the people who made it all possible in the first place.
Architect Elizabeth Ellul sits on both the planning board and the planning commission which determines development planning applications for ODZ and urban conservation areas. It was her commission which gave the original go-ahead for Joseph Portelli’s villa, overruling a recommendation for refusal by the case officer who had been assigned to his application.
When the planning board voted on the application earlier this week, Ellul joined the majority of members in voting in favour.
The problem is that her husband Andrew Ellul actually works as an architect for Portelli’s project to build a tower for blockchain companies in the heart of Paceville as part of his ongoing Mercury Towers project. However, she brushed off concerns that this amounted to a conflict of interest, arguing that she shouldn’t have to recuse herself from applications by her husband’s clients for projects in which her husband isn’t the architect for.
“I do not know who my family’s clients are as I do not participate in any of their work,” she told The Times a few months ago.
Following the outcry, Portelli yesterday announced he will be voluntarily renouncing his villa permit, even though he argued that his was just one of hundreds of similar applications for the construction of residences on ODZ land.
However, Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg and Labour MEP Alfred Sant have warned that the saga shouldn’t end there but result in the resignation of Ellul as chairperson of her commission.
“The developer’s retraction of the permit has placed the chairperson of the Planning Commission in an impossible situation,” Sant said. “For moral and professional reasons, she must resign from her position because conflicts of interest, or perceived conflicts of interest, have become flagrant.”
“When destroying the natural environment, the tactic is one where you first get your foot in the door, then stick your knee in and eventually open the whole door and let the deluge in. The spaces where this deluge hasn’t hit are getting smaller and smaller and those who defend us against this deluge cannot be perceived to be benefitting from it.”
Buttigieg shared that statement and called on the PA to immediately revoke the permit.
“This project would have destroyed the entire area of Ta’ Muxi, where there are no buildings except [the ruins on which Portelli’s villa was proposed],” he said. “I thank the media who helped us and I wholly believe that the only reason this project won’t take place is because of the public outcry. This was no joke; the project would have opened the floodgates for similar areas. There are other pending applications in Qala, we now hope the Ħondoq application goes the same way.”