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Mepa stops Polidano works, again. Muscat - 'Illegal development will not be tolerated'

Mepa said this afternoon that it had, again, stopped illegal development works which were being carried out in Hal Farrug, adjacent to PoliGas Ltd.

The illegal works, by construction magnate Charles Polidano's company, were reported in The Sunday Times last Sunday.

This morning the prime minister said when questioned on the case that illegal development would not be tolerated.

In its statement, Mepa said that over the past few days, its enforcement officers noticed that works had resume on a site which a few months ago had been sealed off with concrete blocks. These blocks had been removed after the developer requested permission from the Authority to remove some of the plant machinery from the site.  

"The Authority warned the developer that should any illegal works resume on site the place will once again be sealed off with concrete blocks, resulting in disruptions to the operation of his other permitted development. In the coming days, the Authority will be meeting with representatives of Polidano Group to address this case and discuss other pending planning applications."

The authority recalled that in September 2012, following several warnings, it requested the police to initiate criminal action against the developer for abusively carrying out a series of developments within the Hal Farrug area without the necessary planning permits. 

The Sunday Times reported that work started again a few days before the election and continued in the past days, in the face of several enforcement notices and direct action in September when the area was sealed off.

Attempts by The Sunday Times to contact Charles Polidano were unsuccessful, while his brother Paul said they had only “cleaned” the site. When it was pointed out to him that photographic comparisons clearly show that concrete was poured onto a large area, he said: “I don’t know, OK, I don’t know. Bye.”

The development was taking place at the back of the company’s headquarters in Ħal Farruġ, all of which was practically built illegally over the past 20 years or so and then sanctioned by the planning authority.

More recently, the brothers illegally extended the back of the headquarters and built two massive outdoor storage depots which were developed through the dumping of tons of rubble onto the fields behind the company.

The contractors also began erecting what looks like a concrete warehouse, over an area of hundreds of square metres of land.

The piles for the warehouse were already in place in September, but over the past few days construction resumed at a steady pace and concrete and rubble started being poured to form the floor.

Mepa had actually sealed off the area when The Times first publicised the illegal development, placing concrete blocks at the entrance of the compound. However, a few months down the line the authority agreed to remove the seals and allow the contractors to take some equipment from the open-air yard.

The planning authority has slapped some 15 enforcement notices on the developer since 1991, when work first started there. Nonetheless, the contractors managed to develop a stretch of land in excess of 45,000 square metres that was once classified as Outside Development Zone.

The area, which is perched on a scenic valley, is full of illegal development and dumping, not only by Polidano Brothers.

People familiar with the site speak of several old carob trees having been uprooted, and arable land that over the years has made way for industrial plants and warehouses.

On top of this, safety concerns have been raised about the fact that the Polidano property also houses a gas plant that is located just 140 metres away from a fireworks factory in the area that belongs to the Ta’ l-Istilla Band Club of Luqa.

With the recent illegal development, the boundaries of the depot are less than five metres away from the fireworks factory (the law recommends a safety buffer zone of 183 metres but makes a provision only for residential areas).

In a reaction to the news of Mepa’s enforcement action in September, the authority’s former auditor Joe Falzon had expressed his cynicism, arguing that Mepa lacks the necessary resources to deal with large developers.

Several of his reports, in which he criticised the authority specifically about its failure to rein in Polidano Brothers, remain largely unheeded.

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