The controversial Bitmac tarmac processing plant at Tal-Balal Road in Iklin, criticised by residents for emitting potentially toxic fumes, has been facing Planning Authority enforcement proceedings for more than four years.
The plant’s piecemeal construction started in the late 80s, with illegalities sanctioned as the plant grew on what was once meant to be agricultural land.
In reaction to recent public outcry, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Environmental Health Directorate (EHD) engaged in a blame-shifting exercise.
The EHD told The Times enforcement was outside of its remit, given it had not received reports of “adverse medical effects”. It claimed it had forwarded the issue to ERA.
Meanwhile, ERA claimed the plant is in line with regulations, given it “has mitigation measures in place.” Nevertheless, it claimed smells may be emitted in the tarmac manufacturing process.
The Shift has reported on the controversial plant’s history of illegal development and use. The plant’s owners have continually been allowed to sanction alterations and additions despite enforcement proceedings.
Since the ‘rationalisation exercise’ in 2006, the site has been considered an “area of containment”, meaning that development was limited to its existing footprint and not allowed to expand further.
The last enforcement notice against the plant was issued in 2019 (EC/50/19) when Bitmac was storing electronic waste on-site. The company appealed the enforcement notice, freezing any action against it.
The case, being heard before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT), is still active despite having started in May 2019, more than four years ago.
The enforcement notice was issued earlier that year, as Wasteserv awarded a €1 million contract to Bitmac for storing electronic waste despite the site having no permits. This led the Planning Authority to issue an enforcement notice against the plant for a job contracted by the government.
The EPRT held its last meeting on the case in May 2022, deferring the decision to a later date. The already-protracted process faced extra delays as four of the tribunal’s 12 meetings were cancelled.
The notice is not part of the almost 700 active enforcement cases on which the Planning Authority can legally take direct action. The Authority is prevented from doing so given the open appeals process essentially freezing any action on the case.
Prime Minister Robert Abela promised to reform the planning application’s appeals process this summer. While the government has launched a public consultation on the issue, there is no timeline. There is also no indication that appeals against enforcement notices will be reformed.
The Bitmac processing plant is owned by Naipaul Developments, Schembri Barbros and V&C Investments of the Magro, Schembri and Borg families.
The families have been awarded a number of government contracts, with the latter two forming part of the Link 2018 JV Consortium, given the Central Link project estimated to cost more than €55 million.