Fuel station review closes most 2015 loopholes

The policy closes many of the loopholes found in the 2015 policy, restricting petrol stations outside the development zones to a maximum of 1,000sq.m and excludes the use of agricultural land

After more than two years of waiting and numerous protests by Moviment Graffitti, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia has finally approved a new policy regulating the development of fuel stations to replace a widely derided policy approved in 2015 which allowed the development of 3,000sq.m fuel stations in the countryside.

The policy closes many of the loopholes found in the 2015 policy, restricting petrol stations outside the development zones to a maximum of 1,000sq.m and excludes the use of agricultural land.

But it does include a degree of flexibility with regards to the height of the new structures which will be determined on a “case by case” basis, and unlike previous policy drafts, the approved document permits catering establishments.

Significantly, only fuel stations which pose safety and amenity issues inside urban areas will be eligible for relocation.

This means that unlike the 2015 policy, existing petrol stations deemed not to pose any problems to their neighbourhood will not be eligible for relocation. It will be the Planning Authority following consultation with Transport Malta and the Regulator for Energy and Water Services (REWS) which will determine which fuel stations are eligible to relocate or not.

Moreover, the new policy will apply to all applications submitted prior to the coming into force of this policy and which have not been determined yet. But appeals against numerous past refusals will still be decided according to the old policy.

Existing fuel stations located partially or fully in ODZ will also not be eligible for relocation. Furthermore, redevelopment, change of use and extensions of existing fuel stations located partially or fully in ODZ, will not be considered.

Another significant departure from the 2015 policy is that no new fuel stations will be permitted unless they result in the relocation of an existing fuel station. Under the previous policy regime, a brand new fuel station was allowed in Burmarrad as the policy allowed new fuel stations on ODZ sites adjacent to industrial or storage areas.

Moreover, relocations in the ODZ will be limited to sites already committed by development carried out before 1967, with the added qualification that the development in question is not related to agriculture, animal husbandry, or other similar rural development. This means that most of the sites eligible for development will consist of abandoned industrial sites or abandoned quarries.

In this case, the size of the new fuel station is limited either to the site in question or to 1,000sq.m of land, whichever is the smaller. The applicant shall be obliged to rehabilitate the excess area over 1,000sq.m.

Although the policy bans new petrol stations on agricultural land, the definition of agricultural land is not spelt out clearly, and is left to the interpretation of the Agricultural Advisory Committee, a government-appointed body which will have the final say on the matter.

Moreover, the establishment of a fuel station on the site will have to result in a wider environmental improvement to the area. Isolated and sporadic sites in the rural landscape will not be considered.

One stipulation reintroduced in the approved policy after being removed from the latest drafts is that fuel stations shall not be permitted within a 500m distance of an existing fuel station in the same direction of traffic.

Significantly, the policy bans the use of groundwater for ancillary facilities like car washes.

But unlike the present policy, the approved policy does leave a degree of flexibility with regards to the height of the newly relocated petrol stations which was previously limited to seven metres. The policy states that the height of the resulting structure above the surrounding terrain would be determined on a “case by case basis”.

But in the case of sites which “are distant from the designated development zones”, special care will be taken to ensure that the buildings and structures do not contrast with or dominate the surrounding rural landscape, “and in no case exceed an overall height of 7m”.

Innovative designs will be considered favourably on “a case by case basis”, a term which may open new loopholes.

Another significant change is that the ban on catering establishments as foreseen in previous revisions issued for public consultation, has now been removed. In fact, the approved policy specifically includes “restricted retail and catering facilities at the ground floor level only.”

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