Soil levelling to further agricultural activity

The Tribunal opined that the proposed landscaping was considered acceptable. On this basis, the permission was issued, subject to a payment of fine equivalent to €900

At issue was a planning application seeking permission for the levelling of soil which had been carried out in a field without prior permit. In his drawings, the architect entrusted with the planning application also showed a ramp and a gate that were likewise constructed without prior authorisation.

For its part, the Planning Directorate found no objection with the proposal.

On the other hand, however, the Planning Commission observed that the proposal was deemed objectionable since it was in conflict with planning policy. It was observed that there was no ongoing on site agricultural activity on site, hence the works were not considered legitimate or necessary.

In addition, the Commission made specific reference to policy 2.9 of the Rural Policy & Design Guidance (RPDG) 2014, pointing out that the gate was higher than the adjoining boundary wall.

Besides, it was said that the gate was not made of timber. This, according to the Commission, was incompatible with the Rural Objective 4 of the Strategic Plan for Environment & Development which aims for the protection and enhancement of the rural landscape.

In reply, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, underlining that the Planning Directorate was in favour of the proposal.

When the recommendation was referred for a decision, the Commission, however, proceeded not to take a decision as per recommendation but to carry out a site inspection in order to ‘have a clearer picture of the situation’.

It was explained that two members of the Commission went on site and allegedly ‘decided on a course of action’ to be taken.

In fact, a letter was subsequently sent to applicant providing what steps were to be followed. In the said letter, applicant’s architect was ‘advised’ to submit a demotion plan showing the removal of the site illegalities which included a container unit.

Architect was also requested to submit fresh plans showing an increased number of trees with a view to screen an exposed third party wall.

Nevertheless, appellant held that, in the next sitting, the Commission had second thoughts and decided to defer the case to another date.
A final decision was subsequently delivered, however without applicant being given the opportunity to have his say.

In reply, the Authority pointed out that in his appeal application, appellant failed to put forward any planning or environmental reasons to counter the Commission’s decision.

In other words, appellant was limiting his arguments to ‘the manner by which the Planning Commission reached its decision’, hence the appeal was to considered null and void at law.

But even so, the Tribunal was reminded that the Commission had refused permission due to the Environment and Resources Authority having signalled concern since there was no ongoing agricultural activity.

During the pendency of proceedings, the Tribunal carried out a site inspection, further to which it was satisfied that the boundary walls blended with the rural landscape.

Moreover, the Tribunal was convinced that the works carried out by applicant, namely the soil levelling, was specifically carried out to facilitate the agricultural activity.

In addition, the Tribunal opined that the proposed landscaping was considered acceptable.

On this basis, the permission was issued, subject to a payment of fine equivalent to €900.

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