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Glut of ODZ old people’s homes continues

Just 200m away from Naxxar’s recently-approved retirement home, the owner of a pig farm also wants to turn this land into an old people’s home: but it is policy loopholes that feed this takeover of ODZ land

james
James Debono
3 August 2017, 7:30am
The latest case involves that of an elderly home and facility for intellectually disabled youths proposed just 200 metres away from the recently-approved 117-room old people’s home
The latest case involves that of an elderly home and facility for intellectually disabled youths proposed just 200 metres away from the recently-approved 117-room old people’s home
A planning exception that allows the construction of old people’s homes and similar health and community facilities on land outside development zones, is now resulting in an absurd situation where these homes are being proposed just a stone’s throw away from each other. 

The latest case involves that of an elderly home and facility for intellectually disabled youths proposed just 200 metres away from the recently-approved 117-room old people’s home, to be built by the Fort Cambridge developers GAP, on Gharghur Road, Naxxar.

A year ago, Kajjarun Limited requested permission for a 200-room old people’s home on Tal-Balal Road, in Naxxar. The application is still pending.

The latest proposal, by landowner Mario Brincat, was presented back in February in full knowledge that GAP’s application was already at an advanced stage in the planning process. Naxxar already hosts the Hilltop Gardens retirement village, as well as the Simblija care home and the Holy Family home.

The latest home is being proposed just outside the development boundaries of Naxxar, instead of a disused pig farm surrounded by agricultural land, near the Laqx windmill and Gharghur Semaphore Tower.  

The proposed 47-room facility will be built over a 2,200 sq.m site over three floors, together with a basement garage.

The current site is already occupied by a disused farm and is not located within a virgin rural area. But according to the Environment and Resources Authority, which has already objected to the project, the project will be “visually intrusive”.

Residents say the pig farm has been abandoned for the past quarter of a century. In 1997 the Planning Authority had refused an application presented by its previous owner for a garage development, because the site lies in a Rural Conservation Area.

But the hunger for land for such private old people’s homes seems insatiable, with the PA now considering at least nine ODZ applications (Sta Lucija, Attard, Mtarfa, Fgura, Birgu, Zebbug, San Lawrenz and two in Naxxar) as well as various others involving higher buildings within development zones.

With the exception of the Attard application, which dates back to 2009, these applications have been presented in the past two years. 

Map shows three planning applications presented in the same area
Map shows three planning applications presented in the same area
Growing demand for ODZ homes

Sources in the Planning Authority say the demand is fuelled both by the real need for elderly care homes resulting from Malta’s ageing population, and by policy loopholes for homes in ODZ areas, or which allow extra storeys above the building heights set in local plans.

Ironically, while ODZ sites are being proposed for old people’s homes, development zones are being picked up for more lucrative residential and commercial development. For example the PA recently changed the zoning of a site in Qormi (next to its Park and Ride) that had been originally earmarked for an old people’s home, to accommodate retail development.

How policy paves way for ODZ homes

The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development opens a loophole by foreseeing old people’s homes and other health facilities outside development zones, but “only if no feasible option exists within the development zone”.

Therefore applicants are being expected to consider the viability of other sites located in the development zone, after applying for development on ODZ sites. So far in all cases considered, these feasibility studies always concluded that the other options were not feasible.

The PA is also currently considering a new policy allowing extra storeys on such homes located within the building zone, including on scheduled buildings.

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