Baħrija farmhouse legal saga finally over

No illegalities committed

The farmhouse in Wied tal-Marċa, in Baħrija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The farmhouse in Wied tal-Marċa, in Baħrija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A nine-year saga over a controversial development in Baħrija belonging to a former Nationalist Party official has finally ended after a judge ruled no illegalities had been committed.

Mr Justice Joseph Zammit MacKeon handed down the judgment in a case instituted in 2010 by the Ramblers’ Association against former PN general council president Victor Scerri and his wife.

The issue was related to a controversy that erupted in 2009 over a permit granted to Dr Scerri’s wife, Marthese Said, for the rehabilitation of a dilapidated farmhouse in Wied tal-Marċa.

A decision by the Planning authority raised eyebrows, as the development was situated in a sensitive ecological area outside the development zone.

Faced by a political backlash and calls for the permit to be revoked, Dr Scerri stepped down from his position within the PN in July 2009 to be able to clear his name as “a private citizen” rather than a politically exposed person.

The NGO failed to substantiate its claim

A month later, the planning watchdog revoked a permit to extend the farmhouse on the grounds that the set procedure had not been followed when the application was being processed.

The controversy took a new twist in March 2010, when the Ramblers’ Association launched legal proceedings against the Planning Authority, Dr Scerri and his wife. Among other things, the NGO asked the court to declare that all work should be declared illegal and to order the couple to restore the site to its original condition pre-May 1, 2008.

It based its case on the fact that the original permit, which was valid for five years, had expired and consequently, all work carried out after that cut-off date was not covered. However, in 2004, another permit was issued to alter some conditions of the original permit.

The NGO argued that the second permit had not extended the validity of the original one.

In its decision, the court held that the 2004 permit was “independent with an autonomous existence” from the first and did not constitute a minor amendment.

The conclusion was based on the fact that a fresh, full development application had been submitted against a standard fee rather than a redacted one.

Furthermore, a new reference number was assigned and the application did not constitute a request for a reconsideration of the original permit.

Consequently, the judge ruled that when the original permit expired, it had no effect on the second one.

Nonetheless, it ruled that the NGO had failed to produce evidence to substantiate its claim that the developer had committed certain irregularities.

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