Planning Authority board vote on new petrol station ends in a draw

The Planning Authority has had to postpone a decision on a new petrol station in Luqa to another time after the vote ended in a tie • Chairman and PN representative among those who voted against

The planning board meeting had to be shifted to another building after activists disrupted proceedings
The planning board meeting had to be shifted to another building after activists disrupted proceedings

A decision on a new petrol station in Luqa will have to be taken another time after the Planning Authority board was split right down the middle.

Five board members – chairman Vince Cassar, PN representative Marthese Portelli, NGO representative Annick Bonello, environment agency head Victor Axiak and Timothy Gambin – voted against the development.

Five other board members, including government representative Clayton Bartolo, voted in favour.

After taking legal advice, a decision was taken to postpone the final decision to another day. If the vote was taken today it would have refused the permit since the chairman has a casting vote in the case of a tie.

But the law states that a vote has to be postponed when a majority intend to overturn the case officer’s recommendation, which in this case was for approval.

The meeting had to be shifted to a different hall earlier on Thursday after Graffitti activists stormed the boardroom, asking the PA to stop decisions on fuel stations until a promised policy review takes place.

The board met again some time later and activists were kept outside the building.

Cassar said Graffitti’s allegation that board members were in cahoots with developers was reason enough for him to vote against the project.

Axiak described the architect’s justification of the location as pathetic in view of four petrol stations that already exist in the vicinity. He also questioned the legality of the project, which he claimed will take more than the 3,000 square metres required by the existing policy.

The proposed petrol station will relocate an existing one in Sliema, which is just 100 square metres.

Axiak asked: “Would it not have made sense to propose a 500-square metre petrol station instead of 3,000 square metres?”

The ERA chairman also insisted that nearly 5,000 square metres of agricultural land will be lost as a result of the fuel station and not 3,000 square metres, since it made no sense to grow crops on the remainder of the site.
This, according to Axiak, is in breach of policy which limits petrol stations to 3000 square metres.

Portelli said she agreed with Axiak and pointed out that the Savoy petrol station was no longer operating. She voted against claiming that the permit was in breach of planning law.

PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg and Elizabeth Ellul proposed more landscaping around the petrol station but Axiak insisted that the land will still be lost to agriculture.

The local plan identifies the area as a green area and a water protection zone. The station tanks will be 16 metres above the water table and will be lined with geo textile membrane.

The applicant’s architect confirmed that the developer bought the licence of the Savoy station at a later stage and the proposed project was originally intended as a new petrol station.

In view of the relocation he asked for a lower planning gain than the €75,000 proposed by the directorate.

Buttigieg asked the board to take the developer’s proposal into consideration, with Labour MP Clayton Bartolo proposing a reduction in the planning gain to €50,000 as was the case in the Magħtab petrol station.

Clayton Bartolo told MaltaToday that he was completely against the complete removal of the EUR 75,000 planning gain as suggested by another board member but insisted that this should be equivalent to planning gains imposted on other similar projects in the past.  Planning gains are calculated on the basis mathematical formula related  to the site area.

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