Illegal boathouses cannot be green-lit by PA rural policy rules

The PA refused to regularise a dilapidated Ghadira boathouse on the basis of the 2014 rules that effectively legalised ODZ structures built before 1978

The 1967 survey sheets indicate that at the time the boathouses had not yet been built
The 1967 survey sheets indicate that at the time the boathouses had not yet been built

It is now official. The rural policy guidelines approved in 2014 which effectively legalised ODZ structures built before 1978 do not apply to boathouses.

The rural policy had been controversially invoked last year to legalise a boathouse in Bahar ic-Caghaq.

But last week the PA turned down an application to regularise, demolish and reconstruct a dilapidated boathouse located in the cluster of boathouses along Triq il-Marfa, Ghadira.

The boathouse which is located on private land consisted of a structure measuring approximately 30sq.m with adjoining terrace roofed over with metal sheeting.

The boathouse structure is visible in the 1978 and 1994 aerial photos. However, the 1967 survey sheets indicate that at the time the boathouses had not yet been built.

The case officer had noted that although the existing boat house to be sanctioned is visible in the 1978 aerial photos, “it cannot be considered to be legally established since only land-uses outlined in the Rural Policy and Design Guidelines 2014 can be considered to be legitimate”.

This means that the rural policy is only applicable to agricultural and residential development.

The case officer also added that “there is a general presumption against boathouses” especially since the proposal would also prejudice any future specific plans for the Ghadira area and “would create a precedent for the sanctioning of other third party boathouses/structures and give rise to further development pressures in this ODZ area.

The Strategic Plan for Environment & Development only allows for rural development which is “legitimate or necessary”.

This decision contrasts with a decision in December 2016 to regularise an illegal boathouse in Bahar ic-Caghaq by invoking the rural policy guidelines

On that occasion asked whether the rural policy applies to all illegal boathouses on the Maltese coastline, a PA spokesperson confirmed that “all the policies in the Rural Policy and Design Guidance refer to all applications located outside development zones (ODZ)”.

But the PA spokesperson specified that this does not amount to a blanket rule to legalise any illegal structure on the coastline.

“As happens in all assessments there may be other policies and material considerations that have to be taken into consideration”, when assessing these applications.

Subsequently in March 2017 the rural policy was invoked by a case officer recommending the approval of an application to reconstruct a boathouse in San Tumas in Marsaskala but the Environment Planning Commission still turned the application down.

In its decision the EPC insisted that the rural policy cannot be invoked in this case because the applicant failed to provide proof that the residential use of the boathouse was legally established. Moreover, the EPC chaired by architect Elisabeth Ellul argued that the approval of the boathouse would have set a precedent for other boathouses in the San Tumas area.

MaltaToday had already raised this issue in September 2014.

Back then, when asked whether this policy effectively legalises all pre-1978 ODZ buildings, including boathouses along the coastline, the same MEPA spokesperson replied that this was not the case as the new document “must be seen in the context of the various policies included in it, most of which deal with a wide range of agricultural and rural developments”.