Kercem agritourism gets PA’s green light despite ERA’s objections

The Environment and Resources Authority questioned whether the development was in line with 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

A 400 square metre agritourism complex set on land outside development zones was approved by the Planning Authority board before an empty hall, despite the strong objections of the Environment and Resources Authority. 

The only two votes against the project was NGOs’ representative Annick Bonello and the ERA representative. The other board members, including Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli, voted in favour. Labour MP Clayton Bartolo and government representative Desiree Cassar were absent. Two citizens were present in the hall but raised no objections 

PA board chairman Prof Victor Axiak questioned the need of a swimming pool in an agritourism complex. “How on earth does a swimming pool enrich an agritourism experience?” he asked the developers, who replied that the pool gave the venture “added value”. 

The development is the first to get a permit under a 2014 policy allowing agritourism developments on “contiguous” land holdings larger than 60 tumoli (67,000 sq.m).The application filed by Jochen, Stephan and Salvu Tabone is proposing the development of a 400 sq.m agritourism complex, which will consist of 10 guest rooms, an independent breakfast area and a reception area and a 93 sq.m swimming pool area. 

A visual assessment indicates the proposal will not have “any negative impact on views towards the area”. Photomontages presented to the PA board showed the project clearly visible from the public road but nearly invisible from long distances. 

But the ERA had strongly objected to the development questioning 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 stated. 

The developers dismissed the ERA’s claim that their land is not contiguous insisting that their family owns 71 tumoli in the area. They were supported by the PA’s planning directorate which cited advice given by agricultural advisory committee. PA deputy chairman Elisabeth Ellul, who voted in favour, insisted that the aim of the policy is to assist young famers not obstruct them. A public deed binds the developers not to use the new buildings for other purposes. 

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