More private landowners trying to extend Malta’s development boundaries

An unprecedent action at revising the building zones that were already controversially extended in 2006

Gozo landowners in the village of Ghasri are seeking the green light to include a stretch of agricultural land in development zones, the second application of its kind.

The five owners filed an application for residential development on 3,194sq.m of agricultural land in an area known as Ta’ Lehfar in Ghasri.

The land borders a rural hamlet that is entirely surrounded by land outside development zones (ODZ). The owners want their land to become developable.

In July, a similar application to extend the development zones was presented by Charles Camilleri’s CA&S Limited for a 13,865sq.m stretch of agricultural land in Zabbar. The Zabbar land, which borders the development zone was being proposed for residential development in the vicinity of James Garage and Lourdes Service Station, on part of a large area of agricultural land between Triq il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa and Labour Avenue.

Both applications have yet to be validated by the Planning Authority.

The request for inclusion of land in development zones is being made through two separate planning control applications, normally used to set the parameters for development on sites, which are already within the development zone.

Since these two sites are presently ODZ, no development except that foreseen in the 2014 rural policy rules can be allowed.

But the applications are unprecedentedly proposing a revision of the development boundaries.

Any revision would be the first to have occurred since the extensive exercise carried out in 2006, when large pockets of ODZ land were scheduled for residential development by the government and the PA.

This time around, the revision is being requested by private landowners.

Over the past years development in ODZ areas has been mainly restricted to a range of developments permitted by the 2014 rural policy, which apart from developments related to agriculture also allows the redevelopment of ruins from older buildings.

More infrequently, development is allowed in so-called “infill sites” found between existing residential developments. One notable case was the issue of a permit for four villas in an ODZ location in Kalkara.

Speculation on a revision of building boundaries has been brewing since 2013 when the newly-elected Labour government embarked on a revision of the 2006 local plans.

The process attracted close to 7,000 submissions from the public but has been left uncompleted.

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”.

In 2014, former parliamentary secretary for planning, Michael Falzon, had justified tweaking the 2006 boundaries by accusing the former government of being “creative” in including certain lands, but not others.

Before the general election, Muscat had indicated that the government may compensate additions to the development zone by taking away land, which is presently located in development zones.

This would require government to change the zoning of lands in public ownership currently within development zone to accommodate requests by private owners.

But sources in the Planning Authority have indicated that the government is having cold feet as the process could open another Pandora’s box as some owners may yet again be left out in the cold.

Moreover, with the environment rising in public opinion concerns, the government may be wary of further controversy.

Within this context more frustrated owners may end up presenting ad-hoc applications to add their lands to the development zone in the absence of clear guidelines by government.

More in Townscapes