Kercem agritourism set for approval despite strong objections by ERA

The Environment and Resources Authority has questioned whether the development is in line with the policy, given that the proponents own scattered land parcels

Picturesque view from the location of the proposed development along Triq is-Sarg in Kercem
Picturesque view from the location of the proposed development along Triq is-Sarg in Kercem

Planners have endorsed the development of 10 bungalow rooms, a reception and pool in an outside development zone in Kercem despite strong objections by the environment watchdog.

The decision is expected on 11 October and if approved will be the first to get a permit under the 2014 policy allowing agri tourism developments on “contiguous” land holdings larger than 60 tumoli (67,000sq.m).

The proposed project endorsed by the Planning Directorate is at the periphery of Kercem, overlooking the picturesque Xlendi valley.

However, the Environment and Resources Authority has questioned whether the development is in line with the policy, given that the proponents own scattered land parcels.

The application filed by Jochen, Stephan and Salvu Tabone is proposing the development of a 400sq.m agritourism complex, which will consist of 10 guest rooms, an independent breakfast area and a reception area.

A 93sq.m swimming pool area will also compliment the complex.

Visitors to the site will have the opportunity to experience a number of hands-on farming activities, which include fruit picking, planting and animal rearing.

The site lies in an area known as Ix-Xaghri and the surrounding area is mainly characterised by farmland.

The development is intended to serve as agritourism accommodation ancillary to the cow, sheep and mushroom farms.

But ERA has questioned whether the proposed accommodation is meant to complement the existing agricultural activities in the area.

The environment authority believes a “genuine agritourism” is one “which seeks to provide modest accommodation for visitors within an operational farm”.

Moreover, according to ERA the land parcels owned by the developers cannot be considered contiguous land as confirmed by the PA’s own Agricultural Advisory Committee.

“It is being noted that fragmented and scattered parcels have been added to seek policy eligibility,” the ERA submissions state.

Documentation presented in the application confirms that the proponents own 71 tumoli of land scattered around the proposed development.

Some of these holdings are only linked to each other through passageways on other land holdings.

The mushroom farm, cow farm and sheep farm located in the immediate vicinity of the development cover 33 tumoli of land.

Apart from resulting in the obliteration of existing environmental features and the take up of good agricultural land, ERA also expressed concern that further requests for additional rooms could be made in the future to accommodate the proposed development.

“Approval of this application could also set an undesirable precedent for similar proposals and increase pressure for up-scaling of the development after the principle is established,” ERA said.

The authority also noted that the proposed structures were being proposed just 100 metres away from the development zone, further blurring the boundaries between the countryside and Kercem’s urban development zone.

But despite these observations, the case officer skirted around the issues, insisting that the development was in line with the Rural Policy and Design Guidance and compatible with the rural character of the area.

Specific conditions will ensure that the accommodation complex and the farming enterprise operate as a single unit and are not sold or operated separately and any “future expansion of the complex would have to be subject to a separate application which would be assessed accordingly”, the case officer said.

A visual assessment, which is unavailable on the PA’s website, also indicates that the proposal will not have “any negative impact on views towards the area”.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage also registered its “apprehension”. It also called on the PA to follow the principles enshrined in the European Landscape Convention, which binds Malta to respect its historical landscapes.

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