[WATCH] Update 3 | Graffitti protest disrupts Planning Authority meeting on new petrol station

Moviment Graffitti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent gatecrash planning meeting to demand a stop to permits for new petrol stations pending a review of the fuel stations policy demanded by Environment Minister Jose Herrera earlier this year • Meeting has now been shifted to another hall and activists kept outside • AD in full support of activists

Activists have were asked to leave the meeting and were prevented from entering the meeting after it restarted
Activists have were asked to leave the meeting and were prevented from entering the meeting after it restarted
Moviment Graffitti stage protest inside Planning Authority
Planning Authority chairman Vince Cassar discussing the ODZ fuel station issue with Moviment Graffitti in front of the PA building gate. Cassar said one representative from the pressure group could join the board meeting, which was continuing from earlier, but the group insisted they would only accept that the whole group be allowed in.

Updated at 12.52pm

Moviment Graffiti activists this morning forced the Planning Authority (PA) board to temporarily abandon a meeting that was to discuss a permit for a new petrol station in Luqa. Police were called in to manage the situation.

Protesters urged the Planning Authority to stop petrol station applications until the fuel stations policy is revised, as promised by Environment Minister José Herrera.

After a brief pause, the meeting continued at a different location. After initially keeping journalists out of the meeting, they were eventually let in to follow proceedings. PA chairman Vince Cassar has also offered to allow two activists in as long as they did not protest and spoke one at a time. The activists objected however, insisting their protest was not directed at this particular permit. Moreover, they stressed they had a right to enter the meeting.

PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg talking to police outside the Planning Authority building
PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg talking to police outside the Planning Authority building

Only journalists have so far been allowed into the meeting.

Earlier

Several activists interrupted a meeting that started earlier this morning by playing music, stringing up a banner with the words 'PA ABZ mill-ODZ' and holding up posters against permits in outside development zones. The police were called in, however activists held their ground.

Board members eventually left the building while activists occupied the boardroom.

The PA was was discussing a new 3,000sq.m. petrol station proposed along Qormi road, adjacent to the Water Services Corporation in Luqa, which was recommended for approval by the PA’s planning directorate.

Graffitti asked why such a small island would need so many fuel stations and refused to leave the meeting.

In a joint statement, the NGOs said there were currently 14 applications for “massive so-called petrol stations” which, if approved, would take up an area more than five times the Floriana granaries.

“We believe that destroying all this natural and agricultural land for mega complexes that include petrol stations, in a country that is by far the most built up country in the EU, is pure madness and should be halted immediately,” the two NGOs said in a statement.

They added that the claims that the 2015 Fuel Stations Policy was aimed at removing petrol stations from urban areas was just “a lame excuse to justify the onslaught on Malta’s environment and quality of life that is making a few fat cats richer”.

Protesters are calling for petrol station permits to be frozen pending a review of the fuel stations policy
Protesters are calling for petrol station permits to be frozen pending a review of the fuel stations policy

The NGOs also accused the majority of the board members of ignoring objections to the projects they were approving.

Back in January Herrera asked the Environment Authority (ERA) to review the current fuel service stations policy and propose revisions to the Planning Authority’s executive council.

"Whilst noting that many of the (development) proposals were in line with the policy, these could be objectionable because of the significant concern regarding the cumulative environmental impact caused by the policy framework for fuel service stations," Herrera had said.

The review is still underway with activists calling for all pending petrol station applications to be postponed.

The Environment and Resources Authority is opposing the Luqa application, saying it takes up 3,000sq.m of agricultural land and creates “a precedent for other developments along Qormi road”. The development will require the excavation of 1,500 cubic metres of soil.

The application originally envisioned a brand new petrol station but at a later stage the application was changed to include the relocation of the petrol station on Savoy Hill in Sliema.

Activists standing in the empty boardroom after the planning meeting was abandoned
Activists standing in the empty boardroom after the planning meeting was abandoned

The petrol station is being proposed by Raymond Brincat, and will include a service station, a small shop, a tyre service garage, VRT Garage, ATM, and car wash facilities.

Three fuel stations exist in the radius of 1.2km in the vicinity of the proposed fuel station. The policy regulating fuel pumps only bans new petrol stations within a distance of a 500m radius of existing ones.

The planning directorate argues that the application is compliant with the policy regulating fuel stations but is recommending a €75,000 “planning gain” compensation for environmental projects in the locality.

The Luqa local council gave its go-ahead for the development, but Birdlife and Nature Trust are objecting to the application. The site is listed as an Area of Agricultural Importance in the South Local Plan.

Criteria for ODZ petrol stations were relaxed in the 2015 policy document, to allow brand new petrol stations in areas adjacent or opposite ‘areas of containment’.

Since the 2017 general elections the PA has approved large petrol stations in Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Maghtab.

AD reacts

Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) have expressed support for the activists, saying that Graffitti Members and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent are "totally right" to protest during the meeting. "Permits for petrol stations are being approved left, right and centre. We do not need new petrol stations. What we need is for existing ones to close down,"

"The Planning Authority together with the Government and the Opposition are accomplices of land speculators. The Planning Authority is not serious. It is a threat to future generations. We have a Planning Authority which doesn't give two hoots about the environment and our quality of life," AD Chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said in a statement.

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