Two petrol stations set for refusal, another for approval by end of month

The two refusals are set for 17 May while the approval of the Luqa petrol station is scheduled for 31 May

photomontage shows the proposed petrol station in Luqa
photomontage shows the proposed petrol station in Luqa

The Planning Authority is set to refuse two applications for the development of ODZ petrol stations in Zebbug and Iklin two weeks before its board will be taking a decision on another ODZ petrol station proposed in Luqa which is still being recommended for approval.

The decision on all three petrol stations was originally scheduled on May 17 on the basis of the existing policy regulating ODZ petrol stations. But after the publication of a story on the Midweek edition of MaltaToday announcing that all  3 applications were to be decided on 17 May, the decision on the Luqa petrol station was postponed to May 31.

The previous meeting on the Luqa application was obstructed by a direct action by Moviment Graffitti which had called on the PA to stop approving new petrol stations until the existing policy is changed.   

Following the interruption, the meeting continued in another hall but the vote resulted in a tie with chairman Vince Cassar – who holds the casting vote – voting against.

All three petrol stations will be assessed according to the 2014 policy which permits petrol stations opposite industrial areas as is the case with both the Zebbug and Luqa applications.

But the Zebbug petrol station is in breach of an article of the existing policy banning new petrol stations which are less than 500 metres from an existing petrol pump.

The proposed petrol station is located 420 metres from an existing fuel, in the same direction of Qormi.

The petrol station is being proposed on former agricultural land on Mdina road – the arterial road linking Qormi and Zebbug, on a corner defined by Triq l-Imdina and Triq Wied is-Sewda.

Curiously the application is being set for refusal before the completion of an Environment Impact Assessment. The Environment and Resources Authority had asked the developers to present a Project Development Statement, a document on the basis of which the authority decides whether an EIA is required.

On 23 April ERA had informed the PA’s Executive Charirman Johann Buttigieg that the application was still being “screened” by ERA to determine whether it required an EIA. ERA had previously objected to the application on environmental grounds.

All previous applications were assessed by the PA following the completion of an EIA. But in this case the directorate is arguing that these studies would only be required if the recommendation of the Planning Directorate to refuse the application is overturned by the board.

“The proposed site is still not considered acceptable in principle for a fuel station and as such any detailed assessment as regards design and visual amenity is considered superfluous at this stage”, the case officer concludes.

The Iklin petrol station proposed in Triq tal-Balal is also set for refusal because the site under consideration is less than 500 metres from an existing service station.

The proposed petrol station is located 350 metres from an existing fuel station, which although not situated in the same direction of traffic, still serves the flow of traffic moving towards Naxxar.

This application is being assessed following the completion of an Environment Impact assessment.

In this way the PA is set to refuse two applications for ODZ petrol stations which are in breach of existing policies, two weeks before taking a decision on the Luqa petrol station which largely conforms to the existing policy.

The decision on the Luqa petrol station due on 5 April had to be postponed after the Planning Authority board was split right down the middle following the meeting which had to be moved to another hall since it was interrupted by protesters.

Subsequently the PA introduced security checks which saw security staff checking the bags of members of the public and the media attending a meeting on the Fortina development in Sliema.

The Graffitti activists had insisted that no decision should be taken on pending applications until the completion of a review of the policy regulating the development of petrol stations ordered by the Environment Ministry Jose Herrera.

The Environment and Resources Authority is now recommending new policy guidelines which effectively exclude the development of new or relocated petrol stations on ODZ land.

ERA is also advocating a 2000sq.m limit on new petrol stations and the removal of a loophole permitting new petrol stations opposite or adjacent to industrial areas.

The 3000sq.m petrol station at Luqa is located on agricultural land opposite an industrial area and is therefore in breach of the proposed guidelines.

This effectively means that the petrol station proposed in Luqa would be in breach of policy if the new policy is approved before 31 May.

Yet the government has already made it clear that the new rules will not apply to the 10 pending planning applications.

Cassar’s vote may be crucial

In the last sitting discussing the Luqa petrol station 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 on that day, the chairman would have had a final say. This is because the chairman has a casting vote in the case of a tie.

The fate of the application could well be determined by PA board chairman Vince Cassar.

Cassar had justified his vote saying that Graffitti’s allegation that board members were in cahoots with developers was reason enough for him to vote against the project. This is not considered to be a legitimate planning reason and could be challenged if developers appealed the case.

Board decisions have to be taken in public but a clause in the law allows the board members to deliberate in private.

The clause was last used in 2016 when the PA was considering an ODZ petrol station in Maghtab. The vote was still held in public. The application was turned down only to be approved in January after the PA’s Review tribunal had ordered the board to reconsider its decision.

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