ERA objects to San Gwann DIY store and supermarket at Tal-Balal

The Environment and Resources Authority has warned that the development of a supermarket and DIY retail store on Tal-Balal road in San Gwann will lead to further urban sprawl outside the development zones

Aerial view of the site from Triq tal-Balal
Aerial view of the site from Triq tal-Balal

The Environment and Resources Authority has warned that the development of a supermarket and DIY retail store on Tal-Balal road in San Gwann will lead to further urban sprawl outside the development zones.

But while objecting to the development, the ERA exempted the project from conducting further EIA studies simply because its major impacts on land use and take-up of rural land cannot be resolved through more studies.

The 7,281sq.m site where the development is being proposed consists of an ODZ corridor between the localities of Iklin and San Gwann.

The site is already disturbed, being used as a batching plant and open storage facility, occupied by heavy plant machinery used in the construction industry.

The retail units are being proposed on 2,864sq.m of land while the remaining space will be landscaped or used as circulation space.

Noting that the present use of the site for the storage of vehicles has already resulted in significant environmental damage and is in conflict with the rural setting of the area, the ERA warned that two retail outlets and basement parking cannot be perceived as an improvement to the site.

It said the adjoining fields are already negatively impacted in terms of productivity from the present operations of the site. These impacts are envisaged to be more significant during the demolition of structures as part of the construction phase of the proposal, which will further contribute to the release of dust and dispersal.

The generation of 23,000 cubic metres of excavation waste during the construction phase was also seen as an adverse impact, particularly in view of the national crisis regarding the limited space for construction waste.

The proposed development will also change the landscape character and visual amenity of the area and change an ODZ area into a commercial site. It is also unclear according to ERA whether the industrial activities present on site are covered by the necessary permits. According to the developers the site is covered by trade permit issued in 1968.

“The project does not merit further assessment through EIA studies, since the relatively basic issues of rural land uptake, intensification and proliferation of physical development and site formalization cannot be adequately addressed through detailed EIA studies,” the ERA said.

The developers’ consultants argue that the retail development will upgrade the area.  “The upgrading of such site will be more than appropriate since it will be using land area which cannot be classified as agricultural land.”

They said the development matches consumer expectations for an ‘all-under-one-roof’ concept that “will be part of the evolving shopping experience in Malta”.

Since the site lies within an aquifer protection zone and a water catchment area, two rainwater reservoirs with a separate capacity of 315 cubic metres are being proposed. The entire area will be concreted upon to prevent any accidental spillages from entering into the aquifer.

The owner of the site, Joe Cassar, was one of the entrepreneurs on the island to start importing trucks, their spare parts and other similar items in 1983. Over the years the business evolved to the importation, sales and hiring of heavy plant machinery, engines, containers, mobile offices and toilets and other related items.

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