Following a request submitted by the Ramblers’ Association of Malta, Malta Environment and Planning Authority Auditor Joe Falzon investigated the permission granted for the relocation of the Mgarr Square petrol station to a site outside the development zone.
Falzon’s conclusions and recommendations, fowarded to RAM, showed that absence of a proper policy document on the provision of service stations made it impossible to decide whether good planning practice has been followed or not in the approval of this application.
“However, the approval of a retail facility to sell motor vehicles, the operation of a service garage for the repair of motor vehicles and spray painting, as well as the approval of a storage facility for construction vehicles is clearly against policy and should not have been approved,” the RAM said.
In an audit report, Falzon advised MEPA to prepare a detailed policy document for facilities which need to be located outside development zones, otherwise MEPA will likely be faced with other requests, which on the basis of previous decisions, would be “difficult to refuse”.
“When a development is approved to be located outside building zone, only such facilities as are strictly necessary for the proper operation of the facility should be considered. In the case of the applications under consideration, only the petrol station could possibly have been approved. The rest should have been located in areas zoned for this purpose,” Falzon said in his report.
The Ramblers’ Association said that the Chairman of MEPA had not challenged any of the recommendations made by Falzon after failing to submit any reactions to the preliminary report submitted.
“It is inconceivable that the MEPA board did now know all this. After 12 years since this saga began, MEPA still has not drawn up the relevant policy document. Seems like MEPA’s right hand had lost all interest in its left one after this same applicant was in 2009 granted permission to increase the size of the petrol tank in his Mgarr square station,” the RAM said.
The RAM added that the architect of the applicant justified the excessive area being taken up by saying that it involved less land than was taken up by the Buqana service station proving Falzon’s reports correct.
“Ten years after the Outline Permit was granted MEPA allowed the applicant to considerably increase the footprint at the cost of additional ODZ, for facilities that he did not have in his previous location,” the RAM said.
The Heritage Advisory Committee (Natural) advised that the conditions of the Outline Permit should be strictly adhered to together with the Environment Protection Directorate of MEPA itself according to the audit report.
“The recommendations were overlooked and the applicant got away with two-and-a-half times the area that was approved in the Outline Permit. The new application asked also for a retail space to replace the one existing in the square, only this time it was much, much larger,” the RAM said.
Falzon, in his audit report noted that, “a retail outlet for the sale of motor vehicles cannot be justified in any way [...] It is clear therefore that the permit [… ] was issued contrary to policy.”
The RAM secretary said that it was “unjustifiable” to allow spraying on the site when this is only allowed in industrial zones.
“The applicant had been using a large open area located outside building zone used for the storage of construction vehicles which is completely illegal and MEPA had served Enforcement Notices. The applicant appealed and lost, took the case to the Court of Appeal and lost again,” the RAM said.
Again in his report, Falzon said that in a “normal civilized country” subject to the rule of law, such persons should be held liable for all damage done and subjected to very heavy fines.
“However, the MEPA rewards such persons. I ask again: is it the intention of the MEPA to allow storage of construction vehicles within sites outside development zone? The site was subject to an enforcement order which the applicant had ignored and continued with his business. Yet the application was approved when, according to MEPA policy, it should have been dismissed,” Falzon said.
Despite these facts, the DPA report recommended that the application be approved, and on August 11, 2011 the MEPA Board obliged with six votes in favour and four against, granting the permit to the applicant in question after MEPA underwent the reform.
The Ramblers Association question any tangible improvement in MEPA following the reform since permits are being approved despite illegalities.
“RAM also takes this opportunity of asking what has happened to the contemplated legal notice entitled ‘Daily Penalty Regulations 2011’? This LN would establish a Daily Fines Schedule for infringements, according to the type of infringement and the area concerned. Has this LN been issued, and is the Daily Fines Schedule in force? If not, why is the government dragging its feet on this?” the RAM asked.