An abuse-prone system allows horse stables to turn into private dwellings

Stables are still being approved through development guidelines, which do not contain a safeguard to prevent them from turning into dwellings

The PA had proposed that each individual stable is separated by a two-metre gap from the neighbouring stable to tighten up the policy against any possible abuses in the conversion of horse stables into dwellings
The PA had proposed that each individual stable is separated by a two-metre gap from the neighbouring stable to tighten up the policy against any possible abuses in the conversion of horse stables into dwellings

The Planning Authority has still not approved a policy revision proposed last year to close loopholes for abusive applications for stables, and has continued issuing permits according to present rules.

A year ago the Planning Authority announced a review of the policy governing horse stables and horse riding facilities and establishments, after the Rural Policy Guidelines approved in 2014 made it easier to build stables in the countryside.  

The PA had proposed that each individual stable is separated by a two-metre gap from the neighbouring stable to tighten up the policy against any possible abuses in the conversion of horse stables into dwellings.

The changes were meant to curtail abuse and mitigate the adverse visual impact that these structures can create within their environment.

The PA also wanted to eliminate a provision that allows the conversion of existing buildings with architectural, historical or vernacular significance in rural areas, into stables or horse-riding facilities. Basements beneath stables and such facilities allowed by the present policy, would be eliminated.

But a year later stables are still being approved through development guidelines, which do not contain these safeguards. 

A spokesperson for the authority confirmed that the policy review has not been finalized and therefore has not been referred to the minister for approval. “In the meantime applications which concern stables and horse riding facilities are being assessed in accordance with the Rural Policy and Design Guidance, 2014 together with the objectives set out in the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED)”.

In 2016, the PA approved a total of 22 developments related to stables. Of these seven consisted of entirely new developments, three in Zebbug, and others in Ghaxaq, Dingli, Luqa and Iklin. Other applications consisted in the regularization of illegally developed stables, alterations and amendments to previous permits.

None of the approved applications included the two-metre gap between each stable proposed in the current policy revision.

The Environment and Resources Authority had objected to all seven applications for new stables approved in 2016. The applications, some of them for more than one stable, include the approval of four stables in an area of ecological importance in Has Saptan, four new stables in an Area of High Landscape Value in Luqa and six contiguous stables on 160 square metres of land in Dingli and Iklin.

Major illegality sanctioned 

The policy also paved the way for the sanctioning of illegal stables – sometimes even beyond the limits set by the policy itself. One major illegality related to 11 stables in Tal-Hlas in Qormi. A previous application to sanction the stables had been refused in May 2010. The illegality dates back to the 1980s.

The 11 stables are located on a 970 square metre site. The existing structures cover a footprint of 530 square metres. While some of the illegal development will be removed, the area earmarked for stables and storage amounts to 331 square metres. This results in a total floor space of 47.3 sqm per stable when present policies specify that each stable should not be larger than 25 sqm. 

Both the Agricultural Advisory Committee and the Environment and Resources Authority had objected to the regularisation of the stables but as often happens, their advice was discarded.

How a stable can be approved in the middle of the countryside

Stables can be constructed in most ODZ locations, including buffer zones to Areas of Ecological Importance and Areas of High Landscape Value. They may be even allowed in Level 1 and Level 2 sites if these do not compromise the site’s characteristics.

Any new stable must be located at a distance of not less than 100 metres from the development zone boundary.

According to present rules new stables cannot exceed a height of 3.5 metres above ground level and a total floor space of 25 square metres per stable, including ancillary facilities and storage space. 

To eliminate abuse the first draft rural development guidelines proposed in 2013 had proposed that new stables should be built entirely in timber.

But this was changed in the approved policy, which permits the development of stables in stone clad in natural timber to up to five courses high. The rest of the height has to be developed in timber. The stables shall fully respect the wider context in which they are located. 

A full basement may be permitted, provided it does not extend beyond the ground floor. The basement does not count as part of the allowable total floor area.  

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