The appeals court has upheld the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal’s decision to reject an application for the construction of a port, hotel, yacht marina, and tourist village in Ħondoq Bay, Qala.
Back in 2016, the Planning Authority unanimously denied the development permit, leading the developers, Gozo Prestige Hotels, to file an appeal before the tribunal.
However, the EPRT rejected the appeal in November of the previous year, prompting the developers to seek relief in the law courts in hopes of overturning the decision.
Gozo Prestige Hotels’ vision for the 103,000 square meter site included a comprehensive complex with 25 villas, 60 apartments, 200 multi-owner properties, and other facilities alongside the hotel.
In their appeal to challenge the EPRT’s decision, the developers argued that the tribunal had misapplied the relevant laws in assessing their plans.
They also sought a reference to the constitutional court, arguing that a local council representative should have been present on the Planning Authority board when major projects like theirs were being considered.
The appeals court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, dismissed both complaints. Regarding the application of planning rules, the court asserted that the tribunal had the discretion to interpret them, as long as the interpretation did not directly oppose the explicit intentions of legislators or appear plainly absurd.
The court also rejected the request for a constitutional reference, deeming it “frivolous and vexatious.” The applicants contended that their right to a fair hearing was violated by the requirement for a local council representative on the PA board, especially considering the local council’s objection to the project.
However, the court disagreed, stating that it was not unusual for a local council representative to be actively involved in evaluating a development proposal concerning their represented locality.
Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg, who had spearheaded a 20-year-long battle to preserve the scenic bay from development, expressed his joy at the court’s decision. He emphasized the importance of the government taking the next step to secure permanent public access and enjoyment of Ħondoq Bay.
In an official statement by the Labour Party, the court’s decision to turn down the development plan was noted with satisfaction. The Labour Party issued a thanks to its representatives, ‘particularly Paul Buttigieg, the mayor of Qala and other activists, who throughout the years worked tirelessly to protect this site in Gozo.’
I welcome the decision that confirms our consistent position against development in Ħondoq. Heartfelt thanks to @PL_Malta representatives & activists who worked tirelessly for this cause. Our approach towards a transition will also strengthen the respect for green principles. -RA
— Robert Abela (@RobertAbela_MT) August 1, 2023