Ablecare appeals Maghtab petrol station refusal

Appeal’s tribunal to decide on Maghtab petrol station for third consecutive time following three different decisions by the Planning Board on the same application

Maghtab petrol station
Maghtab petrol station

There seems to be no end for the Maghtab petrol station saga which has already seen two appeals and three different board decisions, the last of which taken in July when the board surprisingly rejected the 3000 sq.m petrol station in a sitting held immediately before the controversial approval of the Central link project.

Abelcare Energy has already demolished two derelict farmhouses over the proposed 3,500 sq.m site on a Salina road intersection near the Alla W Ommu hill. The project includes 500 sq.m of landscaping. The applicant argued that this made his proposal compliant with the fuel stations policy, which limits ODZ petrol stations to 3,000 sq.m sites.

The latest appeal presented by the planning authority’s former CEO Ian Stafrace on behalf of Paul Abela questions the legality of the PA’s refusal because the developer was not informed of the reason for refusal before the sitting was held. In fact the Planning Directorate was still officially recommending the approval of the application before the sitting was held.

The appellant pointed out that since the board had indicated its intention to over turn the case officer’s favourable recommendation, it was legally obliged to issue new reasons for refusal before taking a vote in another session.

The reason verbally given before the vote was that a strategic plan for Maghtab approved in 2018 regulating development in the Maghtab area, made it clear that the controversial fuel station policy does not apply to this area. But the appellants disagree with this interpretation arguing that this simply meant that the application for a petrol station could not be evaluated according to the strategic plan for the area.

The Planning Authority’s appeals tribunal (EPRT) had already revoked two previous planning board decisions. In 2016, the PA board refused the permit by 6 votes to three for being in breach of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED). But the EPRT overturned the refusal, arguing that the board failed to explain why SPED policies protecting the rural environment should take precedence over the fuel stations policy, which allow urban pumps to be relocated to ODZ and rural areas.

That permit was brought back to the board in December 2017, with board members first indicating they would be refusing it, only to then vote in favour in January 2018.

But in April 2019 the permit was revoked again by the EPRT for procedural reasons brought up in an appeal presented by residents, namely the PA’s failure to upload documents before the decision was taken.

In their appeal the applicants are arguing that since the petrol station’s permit was only revoked because of the PA’s shortcomings, the PA cannot  now invoke a policy which came in place after the permit was issued to turn it down, describing this action as a “violation of the rights and legitimate expectations of the applicant.”

The PA’s refusal of the Maghtab petrol station application comes in the wake of a revision of the petrol station policy approved in 2014. A new draft policy which has yet to be approved bans petrol stations on agricultural land and limits such developments to 1000 sq.m. But the PA board is under increased pressure from activists not to approve more petrol stations before the new policy comes in place. In fact the PA has recently turned down another ODZ petrol station in Attard along Mdina Road, which is also being appealed. The EPRT still has to determine these ODZ applications under the current policy.

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