PA says no to ODZ extension of car depot

The Planning Authority refuses an application to extend a car depot in Tal-Balal at San Ġwann onto agricultural land

Sprawling development – how the site changed from 1957 to today (aerial photos taken in 1967, 2004, 2012 and 2016)
Sprawling development – how the site changed from 1957 to today (aerial photos taken in 1967, 2004, 2012 and 2016)

The Planning Authority has refused an application for a 3,400 sq.m extension to a car rental hub on agricultural land in San Ġwann.

The car rental hub is situated on what was once a quarry that had been rehabilitated into agricultural land used to grow fodder in the 1950s.

The same planning application asked for the regularisation of 1,000sq.m of land that was developed irregularly by the company.

The land is situated in the Tal-Balal area between San Ġwann and Naxxar.

It was only in June 2013 that the PA had regularised the Europcar vehicle rental facility.

The planning history of the site, which starts with an enforcement order in 1994 against an illegal change of use, shows how a disused quarry used as a beverage distribution centre by Farsons was allowed to be operated as a commercial depot.

In 1995, the illegal beverage distribution centre was regularised against the advice of a case officer. A permit to regularise the extension of the site and its change of use to a car depot was issued in June 2013.

After these illegal structures were regularised in 2013, another area was developed without a permit. A project statement by the developer from May 2017 points out that while “4,400sq.m are subject to permits”, a further 1,000sq.m are not.

The case officer had recommended the refusal of this application.  But initially the PA’s planning commission – the body that takes decisions on a day-to-day basis – had indicated that the application could be approved because the car park extension was “reversible” and did not include any new structures.

During yesterday’s meeting the application was rejected for the reasons given by the case officer.

The case officer pointed out that the development was in breach of the local plan, which designates the area of the car depot as an agricultural zone.

“The illegal extension onto undeveloped and uncommitted land and the proposed extension on undeveloped and uncommitted land for the proposed use (car depot) are not supported by any policy provision, would result in the loss of agricultural land and hence the proposal is objectionable in principle.”

Both the Environment and Resources Authority and the Iklin local council objected to the development.

Europcar, which has a 700-vehicle fleet, is a leading car rental and leasing specialist.

The company started out in the 1970s from a basement garage in San Gwann. In 2008 it shifted its entire operation to the Tal-Balal premises.

The company insists that it is of “utmost importance” for it to retain its location and carry out the necessary expansion, both from an environmental perspective and from a logistics point of view.

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