Controversial Maghtab mega fuel station back on agenda after appeals decision

3,500 square metre fuel station is placed back on PA’s agenda after appeals tribunal says no specific reason was given for refusal back in March 2016

Abel Energy Limited is proposing the construction of a 3,500 sq.m fuel station and retail outlet
Abel Energy Limited is proposing the construction of a 3,500 sq.m fuel station and retail outlet

A controversial 3,500 sq.m fuel station and retail outlet near an intersection on the Telgha t'Alla w'Ommu road, is back on the Planning Authority’s agenda after an appeals tribunal revoked the PA board’s decision in March 2016 to refuse the project.

The application is for a fuel station, car wash, and retail outlet on a triangular-shaped land near Triq l-Arznu where the main road exits onto Maghtab.

The proponent is Abel Energy Limited, which is owned by the Malta Mediterranean Hub plc that now runs the former shipbuilding docks in Marsa.

The development is being opposed by both residents and environmental NGOs, being proposed in a rural hamlet located outside development zones where development has to respect the area’s rural characteristics.

But the tribunal – called the environmental and planning review tribunal (EPRT) – concluded that the PA board did not give sufficient reasons for overturning the recommendation from Planning Directorate to approve the project.

It has now ordered the board to reconsider the application again.

The decision was taken after the PA’s deputy chairperson Elizabeth Ellul, who was chairing the meeting instead of chairman Vince Cassar, asked the media and the public to leave the meeting, invoking a clause in the law allowing the board members to deliberate in private.

The vote was however taken in public. The EPRT in fact confirmed the legality of the procedure.

Only three board members voted in favour, including Ellul. Government representative Joe Sammut and opposition representative Ryan Callus were among the four who voted against. The rest abstained.

The PA board had then justified the refusal of the fuel station because itw as in breach of the SPED (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development” particularly Rural Policy RO4, which states “it is crucial to safeguard the rural environment and reduce conflicts by refusing inappropriate development proposals”. 

The development is being opposed by both residents and environmental NGOs
The development is being opposed by both residents and environmental NGOs

But the EPRT claims the board failed to show how the SPED overruled the policy regulating fuel stations approved in 2015.

The PA had justified its decision by saying that only residential development, agricultural buildings and retail outlets occupying less than 50 square metres are allowed within the rural hamlets, and that any such development must enhance the rural characteristics of the area.

If approved, the proposed fuel station would replace two farmhouses which existed pre-1967 – deemed by the PA to be a “typical example of vernacular architecture in a rural setting”.

In its own submissions to the tribunal, the PA argued that these structures merit protection and should be reused in a manner compatible with the rural character rather than be demolished. The area also includes a number of protected trees contributing positively to the quality of the landscape.

On his part, applicant Paul Abela – the MMH chairman – argued that his application fulfilled all the criteria set by the policy regulating the relocation of existing fuel stations in residential areas to ODZ localities.

He also highlighted the fact that, although the vote was taken in public, the deliberation on the vote was not.

The EPRT confirmed that this procedure was not in breach of the law but cited a court sentence on another case which clearly states that specific reasons have to be given to justify a refusal of a permit.

Unlike the recently approved petrol station in Burmarrad – which is a brand new one – the one proposed in Maghtab would replace an existing petrol station in Mosta. If approved, the development would include autogas pumps, electric car-charging facilities, carwash services, retail facilities and underlying garages.