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Wied Moqbol saved again by law courts

The site at Wied Moqbol in Zurrieq, where a new quarry was proposed, is designated by the South Malta Local Plan as an agricultural area

James Debono
13 October 2016, 9:55am
The site at Wied Moqbol in Zurrieq is designated as an agricultural area
The site at Wied Moqbol in Zurrieq is designated as an agricultural area
Court has turned down a legal case presented by Professor Ian Refalo in an attempt by quarry owner Charles Fenech to open a brand new quarry at Wied Moqbol in Zurrieq.

The Planning Authority (PA) had refused the new quarry application in 2005 because of a local plan policy, which protects agricultural land in the area.   

But in December 2014 the PA’s Environment and Review Tribunal surprisingly overturned the decision and granted a new quarry permit.

The site at Wied Moqbol in Zurrieq is designated by the South Malta Local Plan as an agricultural area. 

The policy clearly states: “MEPA will continue to protect agricultural land from all types of inappropriate development. Within agricultural areas, as indicated on the relevant Environmental Constraints Maps, only buildings, structures and uses essential to the needs of agriculture will be permitted”. Moreover the nearby Wied Moqbol is designated as a Special Area of Conservation of International Importance under the Natura 2000 programme in view of the importance of the species as well as archaeological remains found there.

The Courts of Justice had consequently rebuked the same permit in May 2015 following a case filed by residents, by clearly stating that “instead of applying policy as it is obliged to do, or at most referring to other policies which may be adopted, the tribunal chose to base its decision on other considerations, such as the value of agriculture.” 

The court argued that a tribunal could not use its arbitrary power to change the designation of a site included in the local plan.  

The applicant than attempted to revoke this Court decision by submitting a new court case.

Refalo argued when overturning the Appeals Tribunal’s decision that the court had applied the wrong law as it did not base itself on the law regulating quarry development and the Structure Plan policy which allowed urban development in rural areas in cases where an Environment Impact Assessment is presented. 

However Mr Justice Anthony Ellul rejected this argument insisting that the PA was always right to recommend refusal based on the South Malta local plan policy.

A final decision will now be taken by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. The tribunal will now have to abide to the court sentence according to which the permit has to be assessed according to the local plan policy which only allows agricultural development in this area.

The Wied Moqbol saga

The original application, first turned down in 2005, was for the relocation of a quarry from Hagar Qim to Wied Moqbol in Hal Far.

The appeal against this decision by Charles Fenech was also rejected by an appeals board in 2009, but the sentence was overturned by the law courts for procedural reasons. 

The law courts did not call for the approval of the permit but accepted Fenech’s appeal because in its 2009 decision the appeals board had not given the developers the opportunity to present their views on the application of the policy which justified the refusal of the permit. 

In its new decision, the new appeals tribunal recognised that the development would result in the “loss of rural characteristics” like rubble walls and trees. But it also concluded that the impact on agriculture was temporary as the quarry can be rehabilitated after the stone resource is exhausted. 

It also observed that the development is compensated by the rehabilitation of quarries in the vicinity of the Hagar Qim monuments. “This means that the development will not result in the loss of agricultural land,” the tribunal argued.

The tribunal which issued the controversial permit is composed of former Labour candidate and lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, Freeport chairman and private architect Robert Sarsero and planner Martin Saliba.

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