PA relaxes planning rules for energy infrastructure

Extensive electricity distribution centres along with smaller substations will only require a ‘notification’ which is to be approved in 30 days

An Enemalta team repairing faults that developed in summer on the underground distribution network (Photo: Enemalta)
An Enemalta team repairing faults that developed in summer on the underground distribution network (Photo: Enemalta)

Distribution  centres and substations will be exempted from requiring a planning permit and will be approved through a fast track procedure originally meant  for minor developments like house alternations, but which over the years has been applied to various classes of infrastructural and industrial development.

Under the new rules, these developments will be approved through the Development Notification system. This system allows the entity or individual proposing the development  to attain permission through a simplified fast tracked process.

In most cases, applicants are simply asked to notify the Planning Authority of what works they intend on carrying out. Once this notification is submitted and has been validated by the Planning Authority, the applicant will receive a reply confirming whether or not the works qualify as a ‘development notification order’ (DNO) within thirty days. 

Class 5 of the DNO law already  allows the use of the fast track procedure on critical infrastructural works, such as the water distribution network, sewerage, as well as electricity and telecommunications works.  But the PA is now proposing to include the construction of electricity distribution centres, new substations and the installation of temporary equipment required for emergency generation of electrical power.

According to the Planning Authority, this “will expedite projects related to the upgrading and maintenance of the electricity distributing network” in a way which does  “not to hinder the timely provision of such critical infrastructure.” 

But since distribution centres cover an extensive area, their development can stir controversy.  For example residents have appealed the approval of a seven meter high distribution centre in Naxxar proposed on a 2000 sq.m site along Triq San Timotju. 

The legal amendment being proposed limits the fast track approval to development which does not exceed the height of ten meters above the highest road level. No reference is made to the area covered by the distribution centre.

With regards to substations, the amendment specified that buildings approved through a DNO  cannot exceed a footprint 50 sq.m and a height of four meters above the highest road level.