Government extends regularisation policy to include buildings partially on ODZ land

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 April, 2023 at 9:21 am by Andre Camilleri

A legal notice that will allow owners of certain properties that extend partially onto ODZ land to have their building irregularities regularised has been published.

The Planning Authority (PA) had finalized the proposal to amend the regularization scheme enabling pre-2016 properties, with a site perimeter that extends partially outside of the development boundaries but are still covered by a permit, to be regularized.

The changes widen the controversial 2016 regularisation scheme, which permits property owners to pay to regularise illegal developments that couldn’t be sanctioned under existing policies at the time. The Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations were introduced in August 2016 and give property owners with unsanctionable, non-conformant, development located entirely within the development boundaries, the opportunity to regularise their development. Up until today it was strictly limited to land within the development zone at the time.

But in November 2022, the government requested the PA to propose amendments to the regularization of existing development regulations, proposing to enable owners the ability to regularize development partially outside the development zone. The legal notice has now been published.

“The reasoning behind these latest amendments is to regularize certain properties which owners were not able to place on the market, or were unable to acquire a bank loan for, due to unsanctionable irregularities that occurred before 2016,” Assistant Director at the PA’s Policy Directorate Joseph Scalpello said during a press briefing.

The amendments were subject to a consultation with various stakeholders, the press was told. The amendments also cover development entirely within a category 1 Rural Settlement, which were designated in 2006 through local plans, and are areas where several old building permits for dwellings had been given that were near the main urban areas but separated by an undeveloped gap.

In order to qualify for consideration, the irregular development must not constitute an injury to amenity, meaning that it cannot jeopardize the “comfort, convenience, safety, security, and utility that may be enjoyed within, and around, the property or neighbourhood.” Regularisation is not automatic. 

Further, the irregular development must appear in the 2016 aerial photographs taken by the Authority.

Developments that are entirely illegal will not be eligible for regularization; only existing, unsanctionable, non-conformant developments within a Category 1 rural settlement built before 2016 may be considered.

There will also be a change in the application fees.

Fees vary from between €400 to €989,000 for all un-roofed development at ground level on land ODZ covered by a development permit issued prior to the coming into force of these regulations, with the lowest amount for a site area of 25 sqm outside the development zone, with the amount rising to the aforementioned €989,000 for an ODZ area of more than 10,000sqm.

Fees for roofed structures beneath ground level on ODZ land are higher per square metre.

As for the rights of third parties, the Planning Authority said that they will safeguard all of the interests of those who submit a formal complaint for which a notice is issued.

In such cases, the Authority informs these third parties of the submitted regularization application and provides them with a 15-day window to inform the Authority as to whether they are to be considered registered interested parties.

Since the introduction of the regulations in 2016, the Authority received over 19,500 applications, Scalpello said. Over the years, the Authority has used the monies generated from these applications to finance schemes for the regeneration of our town and villages, namely the Irrestawra Darek Grant Scheme, Irrestawra l-Faċċata, Irrestawra l-Każin and the Traditional Wooden Balcony Restoration Grant Scheme, Scalpello added. Some of the money recouped is also used for urban improvement projects proposed by local councils, or NGOs, through the Development Planning Fund.

Last November, when the amendments were first announced, 15 organisations spoke up objecting. The NGOs said that with the PA’s, (at the time proposed) amendments to the 2016 Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations, a scheme which was supposed to last only two years but was extended indefinitely, developers who built on sites which are “partially” in ODZ will now also be able to pay a fine to legalise their irregularities. While the original 2016 regularisation scheme only accepted sites within development boundaries, the new scheme refers to sites which encroach on ODZ and will also include illegal development which goes against policies, the NGOs said. “Policies which are supposed to prevent such development from being allowed will now be overruled by developers seeking to regularise their illegal developments in exchange for a paltry fine,” the organisations had warned.

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