PA ordered to pay €331,000 compensation following “preferential treatment” given to Ċaqnu for building of LIDL supermarket in 2007

The First Hall of the Civil Court has ordered the Planning Authority to pay more than €331,000 in compensation to the former owners of a plot of land on which the Lidl supermarket was built in Luqa around 14 years ago.

The granting of the permit on ODZ land for the supermarket to be built was given to contractor Charles Polidano, known as iċ-Ċaqnu, after he bought it from Leonard Catajar, the original owner of the land for the sum of Lm100,000. Cutajar sold the land to Polidano after he gave up on trying to develop it between 1988 –  2003, during which time three development applications were refused,  including one to build a garden centre in which he wanted to build a greenhouse to cultivate and sell various vegetables.

In 2007, Polidano bought the land after he had approached Cutajar and asked him to sell it to him. In March of the same year, in other words a month before the final contract, to the owners’ great surprise, MEPA issued the permit to allow a supermarket to be built. This was after it disregarded the objections which it had been making for many years for the land not to be developed,  on the premise that the land was too close to the airport and therefore all forms of development were considered unacceptable. Four months later, in June 2007, Polidano sold the land with the supermarket permit to Lidl Immobiliari Malta for the sum of Lm1,990,000 (€4,636,700).

In his decision, Judge Mark Chetcuti ruled that it was contradictory for MEPA to consider the development of the supermarket by Polidano acceptable, when the same authority was of the belief that the building of a garden centre by the original owner was too commercial for this area. He said it was illogical for a garden centre to be refused because it was considered to be a commercial development but then a supermarket was acceptable, when the commercial nature of a supermarket is much greater than that of a garden centre.

The court said that this was a clear case of distinct treatment without any valid reason, and that MEPA had given Charles Polidano preferential treatment to the detriment of the original owners of the land.

When it came to calculating the compensation, the Court considered the value of the land when it was sold to Polidano in 2007, and therefore ordered the Planning Authority to pay the sum of €331,000, which is the difference between the amount paid to the owners by Polidano of €233,000 and the value of the land at the time of €564,295.