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Revoked Birkirkara carwash gets permit by new MEPA tribunal The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s Appeals Tribunal has re-issued a permit revoked in 2012 for a car wash in Dun Karm Psaila Street in Birkirkara. The Appeals board insists that that there is no evidence of ‘fraud and misleading information’ in a permit case involving Daniel Cordina, who simultaneously chaired the MEPA board which issued the permit and also signed a plan, in his role as a Transport Malta official, submitted by the applicant. In 2012 MEPA, following an investigation, had revoked the planning permit granted in September 2010 to Saviour Schembri by the Development Commission (DCC) for a carwash facility, on a vacant site located just outside the Birkirkara development zone. The Planning Directorate started investigating the case after it was notified that a Transport Malta plan submitted by the applicant was not the official position of Transport Malta. Subsequently the permit was revoked in accordance with the Provisions of Article 77 of the Environment and Development Planning Act, which allows MEPA to revoke permits when the board is misled by fraudulent, incorrect or misleading information. The Transport Malta plan was presented by the applicant’s architect as an official plan of Transport Malta. But it later turned out that Daniel Cordina, the chairman of the DCC, which took the decision to approve the permit, had authorized the plan in his role as a Transport Malta official. The authorized plan was cited as a reason for overturning the Planning Directorate’s recommendation not to approve the permit. In its investigations the Planning Directorate notified Transport Malta and submitted for its attention the ‘approved’ Transport Malta plan, which had guided the DCC in its decision. Transport Malta confirmed to the Planning Directorate that the plan was not to be considered as official correspondence between Mepa and Transport Malta. “The outcome of this investigation clearly showed that the DCC was misguided when deciding on this case since the plan resulted not to be an official document of Transport Malta,” Mepa said in 2012. Prior to the DCC’s decision back in 2010, the Planning Directorate had recommended that this application be refused because the proposed carwash facility was to be situated within a designated area for future sports facilities/activities as identified in the Local Plan. It had also noted that the proposed carwash would have a significant and unacceptable impact on the road network in the area. Cordina defends himself But MEPA’s appeal tribunal, composed of lawyer and Labour candidate Simon Micallef Stafrace, Freeport chairman Robert Sarsero and planner Martin Saliba, overturned the revocation and proceeded to issue the permit. The tribunal concluded that on the basis of the testimonies of those involved the document considered by the DCC was neither fraudulent nor misleading. But the same tribunal also confirmed that architect Daniel Cordina, the Acting Chairman of MEPA’s Development Control Commission which decided the application, was also a Transport Malta employee in the Roads Infrastructure Directorate of Transport Malta who was directly involved in certifying the document in question. “Things could have been managed better by the board and by architect Daniel Cordina but even if there was a conflict of interest, this was not the reason cited for revoking the permit,” the Tribunal concluded. When interrogated during proceedings in front of the Tribunal the former DCC board member, Daniel Cordina, insisted that he had asked the architect to submit further documentation from Transport Malta simply because the other four members of the board were intent on approving the project. He claimed that he was concerned about safety aspects of the project due to its proximity to the roundabout. In view of his concerns he asked the applicant to submit new plans which had to be approved by Transport Malta, outlining the distance from the roundabout. Cordina also claimed that the TM plan he requested as DCC chairman and which he approved as Transport Malta employee had no bearing on the decision. “When I saw that the board was intent on approving the permit, I wanted to be 100 per cent sure because there was a safety issue.” Cordina claimed that even if he had abstained or voted against, the other board members would still have approved it. He claimed that his request for further documentation simply delayed the issue of the permit. Cordina confirmed that although the plan was formulated by Transport Malta’s design office he had taken responsibility for the plan by signing it. TM official Lucienne Stafrace confirmed that Transport Malta had never approved the plan. “The plan was never issued officially by the Road Infrastructure Directorate.” Stafrace confirmed that the plan signed by Cordina lacked the required signature of other officials. MEPA official Victor Sladden denied that the plan was false or a fabrication, insisting that the main reason for the revocation of the permit was Daniel Cordina’s conflict of interest. The applicant protested that he was not even informed by MEPA when it met to decide on the revocation of the permit. The applicant also argued that MEPA was too generic in the application of Article 77.