Updated | Former local plans to blame as PA washes its hands over development

The Planning Authority addresses recent controversy over the development of an 11,590 sqm plot of farmland in Żurrieq's Nigret area, blaming it on 2006 local plans • ADPD tells government to discard rationalisation exercise

The plot of farmland was added to the development zone in 2006
The plot of farmland was added to the development zone in 2006

Updated with ADPD press statement at 3:05pm

The Planning Authority has washed its hand of the recent controversy hitting an 11,590 sqm plot of farmland in the Nigret area in Żurrieq slated for the development of apartments.

In press statement on Saturday, the authority explained that Planning Control (PC) applications solely regulate aspects such as land use, street layout, and building height. They do not determine whether a site falls within the development zone.

“Land that became part of the development zone in accordance with the rationalisation legislation of 2006 does not become ‘developable’ with a PC application but is ‘developable’ as a result of the 2006 Local Plans,” the authority wrote.

A case officer issued a report recommending the approval of the development of apartments in question, with a final decision by the Planning Authority set to be taken next Tuesday.

The Żurrieq land was added to the development zone in the extension of building boundaries carried out in 2006. The PA has already approved a similar application on an adjacent 3,400sqm agricultural plot which includes various vernacular structures last year.

Reacting to statements circulating the media, including Żurrieq residents objecting to the development, the PA said “PC applications only regulate the land use, layout of streets and building height and not whether a site is within the development zone or not.”

The Authority further clarified that not all applications received are related to development permits, stating, "The Authority also receives and processes other types of applications, one of which is known as the 'planning control application.'"

The PA provided additional details on the scope of PC applications, indicating that they are primarily used when applicants or site owners seek changes in building or road alignment or wish to modify the zoning of a site. Moreover, PC applications come into play when a site within the development boundaries lacks planning parameters. 

“A PC application is also used when a given site within the development boundaries has no planning parameters,” the authority added.

The PA referred to amendments made in 2006 by the nationalist government, which included several unbuilt sites around Malta and Gozo within the development zone. These sites, often situated adjacent to built-up areas, may have be agricultural land. 

The authority highlighted that since these sites were included in the development zone without planning parameters, landowners must submit a PC application proposing the planning parameters before seeking development approval from the Authority.

ADPD at Nigret, Żurrieq
ADPD at Nigret, Żurrieq

The PA also outlined its evaluation process for PC applications, highlighting that decisions are made publicly by the PA's Executive Council. The Authority may approve, request modifications, or reject PC applications based on planning considerations.

'Discard rationalisation exercise now,' ADPD tells government

The rationalisation exercise should be discarded immediately and land which used to be outside the development zones (ODZ) should be returned to that status, ADPD Chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said on Saturday.

Speaking in Nigret, Żurrieq, the Green Party Chairperson vehemently opposed this exercise and called for an immediate end to it. 

“As long as there is the last remaining sliver of land that can be saved, we will continue our fight to safeguard agricultural land and stop this unbridled development,” he said.

He emphasised the importance of preserving agricultural land and halting uncontrolled development, even if there is only a small portion of land left that can still be protected.

Deputy General Secretary Melissa Bagley highlighted the party's long-standing efforts in exposing the negative impacts of the rationalisation scheme over the past 17 years. 

“The focus of concern today is the Nigret area in Żurrieq, where yet another large piece of arable land is being targeted for development,” she said.

If developments proceed, according to ADPD,  the development will irreversibly destroy valuable arable land.

Cacopardo reminded everyone that the Maltese Parliament approved a resolution in 2006, known as the rationalization exercise, which altered the status of vast land areas from outside the development zones (ODZ) to "within scheme" and thus eligible for development. 

“This change paved the way for proposals like the one threatening the Nigret area in Żurrieq, without due consideration for the cumulative impact of such development,” he added.

Highlighting the ”irony of allocating €700 million for the greening of urban spaces while simultaneously witnessing the unchecked destruction and environmental disfigurement of the Nigret fields,” ADPD emphasised the need to protect these fields and other large land areas.