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Illegal Victoria Lines walls and terrace are demolished

For years, squatters had gone unpunished for reserving a beauty spot at the historic Victoria Lines all for themselves.

Today’s action sends a strong message that people cannot take the law into their own hands

But the peace and quiet of the area known as Ħabel Bies was shattered yesterday morning by the noise of heavy machinery, as the law finally caught up with the offenders.

Despite being issued with an enforcement order in 1996 for a private terrace built alongside a hut above the fortifications, a squatter had continued using the hut and terrace undisturbed for 17 years. Next door, a tenant who rented a building from the Government had received an enforcement order in 2011 for adding a wall, gate and paving stones without planning permission to create his own garden.

Tourists alerted The Times to the ongoing illegalities and the authorities were finally spurred into action when an article was published the front page on February 18.

The Environment and Planning Authority, which issued the enforcement orders, threatened to take action against the Government Property Department, as owner of the land and buildings, unless the illegalities were removed. Yesterday, contactors moved in to demolish the illegal walls, gate, paving and terrace using a mechanical excavator and manual tools.

The tenant who rented the building through the department will be able to continue doing so but cannot prevent the public from accessing the land.

However, the hut has been repossessed by the department as the squatter was using it illegally. Neither the tenant nor the squatter were at the site when the structures were demolished in the presence of three Administrative Law Enforcement officers and the media.

The department will attempt to recover the costs of yesterday’s demolition from the occupiers, who were given one week’s notice of the impending action.

A Mepa spokesman said the authorities encouraged offenders to rectify building illegalities themselves before action was taken.

“Direct action is a last resort as it is a financial burden and it sometimes takes years to recover the costs,” he said.

New daily fines and penalties introduced by Mepa last year were proving to be an effective deterrent against abuse and there had been a steady improvement in contraveners correcting their own illegalities, he said.

“Today’s action sends a strong message that people cannot take the law into their own hands. Victoria Lines is an important site of touristic and cultural importance that should not be abused,” the spokesman said.

Built by the British in the late 19th century, Victoria Lines divide the north of Malta from the south, running through rural areas of natural beauty that are popular with ramblers.

While order was restored at one section of the fortifications yesterday, Heritage NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar has criticised Mepa for approving a large residential project under construction at Madliena Ridge.

“This huge modern project totally dominates the landscape, obliterating this heritage landmark, a scheduled structure,” FAA said.

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