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Rabbit farm in Piswella valley approved against experts’ opinion

A rabbit farm over a 230 square metre footprint will replace a small rural structure, mature trees and old rubble walls in the Piswella valley in Gharghur

james
James Debono
22 July 2016, 8:08am
Carmelo Vella, who is a registered rabbit breeder, presently owns a rabbit farm operating in a palazzo in Zabbar
Carmelo Vella, who is a registered rabbit breeder, presently owns a rabbit farm operating in a palazzo in Zabbar
A small rural structure, mature trees and old rubble walls in the Piswella valley in Gharghur will make way for a rabbit farm over a 230 square metre footprint with a gigantic basement which increases the floor area of the building to 355 square metres.

Other developments foreseen in the area include a 22 square metre loading bay and a 4.6 metre wide concrete pathway from the road to the farm and 1.2 metre high demarcation rubble walls. The site lies partly in a proposed level 3 area of ecological importance and partly in a “site of scientific importance”.

Carmelo Vella, who is a registered rabbit breeder, presently owns a rabbit farm operating in a palazzo in Zabbar, which was added to development boundaries in 2006, as well as adjacent ODZ land, which includes some unauthorised structures.

The applicant now intends to restore the palazzo and re-use for “residential purposes” the rooms previously in use for breeding rabbits. By approving the development the Environment Planning Commission disregarded the advice of the case officer who called for the refusal of a permit. 

The case officer expressed concern about the removal of existing rubble walls at the proposed farm site, and the uprooting of mature trees. The report also expressed doubts on the genuineness of the applicant, citing the “dubious layout of the new farm, the excessive size of the farm vis-à-vis the number of rabbits to be reared”.

Despite the doubts expressed by the case officer, the Agricultural Advisory Committee recommended the relocation of the farm, after changes were made to the layout of the farm. Yet even these changes proved unsatisfactory for the case officer.

This is because since the farm will have fewer than 50 does it will not have to register with the Veterinary Department. “Hence the approval of this application will entail a new farm building that is not considered to be of a commercial nature and would have no legal obligation to be registered,” the case officer said.

The report claims that a farm of such a size can accommodate three times as many rabbits and that the “genuine need for this agricultural development still has to be established.”

The case officer also noted that the site is not located within an identified intensive agricultural zone where animal husbandry activities normally take place. The case officer also insisted that before considering the re-location, ODZ structures in Zabbar (adjacent to the palazzo included in the 2006 extension of development boundaries) should be demolished. 

The board justified the approval of the ODZ rabbit farm by saying that the Zabbar palazzo, presently used by the breeder, merits protection and should be restored. The visual impact will be mitigated by the planting of 20 trees.

The board also argued that the development is compliant with the rural policy approved in 2014 according to which permission may be granted for the relocation of livestock farms for a livestock farmer, provided a number of criteria are satisfied including “high quality rural design” and “respect for the rural context”. The policy also says that the “authority will give preference to the re-use or conversion of existing disused or disused livestock farm buildings.” 

The applicant claimed that it was not feasible for him to find another disused farm as recommended by the rural policy because he did not own any other land parcel except the Gharghur site.

A public deed stating that the owner will terminate his farming activity in Zabbar within three months of commencing operations in Gharghur was signed. The deed also stipulates that “illegal” ODZ structures in Zabbar (adjacent to the palazzo included in development zones in 2006) are demolished.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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