Proposed Ta’ Qali retail hub breaches PA’s supermarket policy

A proposed zoning policy to permit the development of supermarkets on an industrial site in Ta’ Qali near the American embassy, contradicts the Planning Authority’s own policy

A DIY centre at Ta’ Qaliali retail hub breaches PA’s supermarket policy
A DIY centre at Ta’ Qaliali retail hub breaches PA’s supermarket policy

A proposed zoning policy to permit the development of supermarkets on an industrial site in Ta’ Qali near the American embassy, contradicts the Planning Authority’s own policy recommending that supermarkets be sited on the edge of town centres to minimise car use.

The suggestion to allow the rezoning of the area for supermarkets was made by businesses already operating in the area.

But according to a PA spokesperson, this is not the case because the site under consideration is already allocated for industrial development in the Ta’ Qali Action Plan, referring to a section which states that supermarkets can be “favourably considered” in industrial areas.

Still, the policy itself states clearly that industrial areas can only be considered for supermarkets “in existing and planned urban areas which offer good access to the arterial road network and have good public transport connection.”

The Ta’ Qali area is not designated as an urban area and, in fact, lies outside development zones. But the area already hosts retail developments. Although the area is presently zoned for industrial development, the Big Mat DIY establishment was issued a permit in 2015 because the showroom and office space were deemed to occupy a smaller percentage of the whole site, which belongs to Attard Bros. In 2016, Attard Bros presented an application to extend the retail establishment which is still pending.

The new policy will not stop the existing industrial operations but it will limit future permits to commercial development deemed by government to be more compatible with the surrounding recreational area.  

The new policy would also impose a €25 planning gain on every additional square metre approved, for the upgrading of recreational facilities and other environmental initiatives within the Ta’ Qali National Park.

It will also increase building heights in the area from the current 10m to a maximum of 17.5m, with heights being stepped down in the direction of Mdina to avoid a negative impact on the iconic landscape. To mitigate the impact on Mdina views as a result of increased heights, the policy also encourages the use of green views,

In the original document issued for public consultation in November the government had proposed changing the industrial zoning of the site to one permitting offices for financial services, retail outlets and food and drink establishments.

But the Interim Retail Planning Guidelines approved in 2004, which are still in place, discourage the development of supermarkets outside existing town centres; indeed, large supermarkets are only permitted after presenting a retail impact assessment assessing their impact on existing establishments located in town centres.

The policy was guided by transport considerations, aimed at encouraging multi-purpose trips and reducing the overall  need to travel by concentrating shopping facilities in town centres and areas easily accessible by public transport.

The policy was repeatedly breached by the PA in the past, particularly when a number of Lidl supermarkets were approved outside development zones under the Nationalist administration.

New zoning suggested by business owners

The document, which is undergoing a second round of public consultation, allows supermarkets, medical clinics, educational facilities, offices, retail, food and drink establishments and storage facilities among the allowable uses.

The demand to include supermarkets, storage facilities, medical clinics and educational facilities was made in a submission made by Attard Bros and Nectar Ltd. Requests by owners of businesses on adjacent sites to be included in the new commercial zone, were rejected.

NGO Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar also reacted to the original proposal before the inclusion of supermarkets among the range of new permitted uses, objecting to the proposed change in zoning which it described as questionable exercise which will enable further development “which cannot be considered to benefit the general public in anyway”.

FAA expressed concern on increased heights noting that existing heights are already excessive in a rural landscape.

FAA also contends that zoning commercial uses outside the urban area is in breach of the SPED which limits the commercial uses to the urban area.

The Environment and Resources Authority did not object to the increased heights but warned that the intensification of development on the site may have an impact on traffic flows thereby increasing risks of environmental impacts associated with further road congestion, and it warned that this may result in further take-up of undeveloped land to extend, upgrade or construct new infrastructure.

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