Daily fines for illegal developments should increase as they are no longer an effective financial deterrent, the planning authority has warned. The call was made in the 2023 annual report which outlined the enforcement action taken by the planning regulator across the Maltese Islands.

It transpired that during the period under review 233 stop and enforcement notices (of which 185 were flagged by the public through the complaints system) were issued. Furthermore, there were 27 cases whereby the perpetrator persisted in the illegality despite have been already slapped with an enforcement notice. Around 78% of the notices issued triggered daily fines which are meant to pile pressure on the contravener until they take action to address the illegality. However, the planning authority noted that these fines which had been introduced in 2012, need to be revised to serve their purpose. 

By law cases of illegal developments can trigger a daily fine of €10 which will double to €180 if the breach is still there after 180 days, and up to €25 after a year. However, there is a capping of €50,000 beyond which no further fines are issued. Consequently, the fine may no longer be a deterrent to mega developers for whom such an amount is relatively a pittance. Sources said that as things stand such capping has become nothing more than slap on the wrist. Hence, such illegalities tend to remain pending for years, while fuelling perception that enforcement is strong with the weak and weak with the strong.

On a positive note in 2023, the planning authority closed a total of 338 pending stop and enforcement notices, which had been issued years before. While in 134 cases the contravener regularised the position, there were 199 cases which were closed after the illegality was removed.

In certain instances, the planning authority resorts to direct action when a contravener fails to comply with the requirements.  Such course of action is normally adopted in extreme cases after all other avenues are extinguished. In this case the authority takes physical action to remove the illegality and slaps the contravener with the bill. However, it was pointed out that the authority at times has to halt the intervention in case the contravener files a prohibitory injunction in court.

Last year direct action was taken in cases related to injury to amenity – the term used for any development which jeopardises the comfort, convenience, safety, security and utility that may be enjoyed within, and around, a property or neighbourhood – illegal changes of use and dumping of material causing environmental damage.

Cases of major note are the reinstatement of the land between Mdina and Mtarfa which was subjected to illegal dumping; the demolition and removal of structures which encroached onto the scheduled glacis of the Floriana fortifications; the sealing of large above-ground storage tanks which were used for the unregulated storage of fuel; the removal of illegally scrapped vehicles from a site in Gozo, being one of the largest illegal scrapyards in the Maltese Islands; and the sealing of various fields which were being used illegally for dumping or other illegal activities to the detriment of the adjacent uses and the environment.