Approval in a Natura 2000 site subject to prior assessment

A development application entitled “to construct agricultural store and reservoir” was turned down by MEPA’s Environment and Planning Commission.

On a preliminary note, the Commission observed that the site in question is located within a Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance and an Area of High Landscape Value. To this end, the Commission maintained that the proposal would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the conservation value and the visual integrity of the area.

In reaction, applicant submitted an appeal, declaring that he is a registered full time farmer cultivating over ten tumoli of agricultural land. Applicant also underlined that the development would blend with the surrounding boulders and vegetation. As a final point, applicant insisted that various development applications have been approved in the immediate vicinity notwithstanding the designated site characteristics.  

On its part, the Authority pointed out that it was only during the processing of the application that applicant had registered himself as a full-time farmer. The Authority reiterated that Structure Plan Policies RCO 12 and 15 prohibit any development in Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance, adding that most of the land registered on applicant's name is "non cultivable". According to the case officer, the proposed interventions may potentially exacerbate the integrity and protection status of the habitats characterising the Natura 2000 site. (Natura 2000 sites fall within a EUwide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. This network was set up to secure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats).

In conclusion, the Tribunal submitted that the Structure Plan aims to assist genuine farmers, many of who require adequate permanent onsite storage facilities. But even so, the Tribunal held that an independent scientific study should be commissioned at applicant's expense with a view to establish whether the proposed structures (tool room and underlying reservoir) would compromise the Natura 2000 status as alleged by the Authority. The Authority was ordered to issue the permit for an agricultural store and underlying reservoir depending on the outcome of the assessment.

[email protected]