Unfinished ‘rationalisation’: Land the size of 22 football grounds still to be developed

The Planning Authority is still assessing development the size of 22 football grounds on land included in development boundaries in 2006

Rationalisation site near Victoria Gardens where 12 villas are now being proposed
Rationalisation site near Victoria Gardens where 12 villas are now being proposed

Twelve years after the approval of new development boundaries, the Planning Authority is still assessing applications by private developers to set zoning rules for 23 different pockets of land included in development boundaries in 2006. These different sites together occupy a land area of approximately 156,000sq.m, which is equivalent to the size of 22 football pitches. 15 of these applications were presented in the past two years.

Although all of these areas were included in the controversial extension of development boundaries carried out in 2006, developers still have to present a Planning Control Application to set planning parameters like building heights and building density for each site. Some of the sites were only included subject to extensive archaeological studies.

It is only after these planning parameters are approved that developers can present planning applications to actually start construction.

Rationalisation site along Triq it-Tari in Swieqi overlooking Wied Ghomor which is now being proposed for new dwellings
Rationalisation site along Triq it-Tari in Swieqi overlooking Wied Ghomor which is now being proposed for new dwellings

Sources in the Planning Authority indicated that the economic slowdown between 2009 and 2012 as well as land ownership issues delayed the process. But the process picked up again in the past two years with the PA being faced with a staggering 15 applications presented in 2017 and 2018.

The developments proposed include a villa complex proposed by the Gasan Group on 6,865sq.m of land along Triq Tal-Ibragg in Swieqi in the vicinity of Victoria Gardens and a residential complex set on 5,060sq.m of land along Triq it-Tari overlooking Wied Ghomor, proposed by Josie Lauri.

The Swieqi local council, while regretting the loss of land, is insisting that only 25% of the land in this area is built up to keep in line with the villa zoning of these areas.

One of the most controversial sites proposed for development consists of 4,860sq.m of pristine agricultural land in Zonqor in Marsaskala. Development on this site is being proposed for a 17.5m high residential development by developer Anton Camilleri.

Another particularly large development is being proposed at Swatar – between valley road (behind the Charles Grech outlet) and Triq Indri Grima, on nearly 18,000sq.m of agricultural land, which includes a large number of trees including carob trees.

Other substantial developments are earmarked at B’Bugia along Triq il-Fossili (13,231sq.m), Ta’ Farzina in Qormi (9,800sq.m), Tal-Hawli in St Paul’s Bay (7,200sq.m) and Siggiewi in fields along Angelo Dorini Street (8,628sq.m).

While most development proposed in these areas is of a residential nature, a planning control application envisages the development of a Lidl supermarket alongside the site of a former scrap yard in Fgura.

The PA can still refuse these applications when the development proposed is in breach of planning policies. For example, a 7,000sq.m development in Misrah Lewza in San Gwann has been recommended for refusal because a proposed road is located outside development boundaries.

A tweaking of boundaries through the inclusion of new lands to the development zones in new local plans initiated in 2013 has been mooted in the past years.

But with the rationalisation process still unfinished 12 years after it was commenced it is doubtful whether the country is ready for another building spree in ODZ areas at the fringes of towns and villages.

The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) foresees “minor adjustments” to development boundaries “whilst ensuring that the overall result does not constitute a significant change”.

Before the general election Joseph Muscat had indicated that the government could redraw the boundaries without decreasing the total area of land classified as non-developable (ODZ). In this way taking away an equivalent amount of land in the development zone will compensate any extension of development zones in some areas.

However, this risks re-opening a Pandora’s box and the inevitable disappointment of landowners who are not included in the new schemes, and additional scrutiny on those benefitting from the latest land grab.

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