Fuel stations ‘cut down to size’ in revised policy draft

No ‘new’ fuel stations constructed outside development zones and smaller 1,000 sq.m footprints, but public consultation will take months to conclude before new rules come in force

Moviment Graffitti activists recently camped outside the Planning Authority offices lamenting the fact that permits were being issued even as the fuel stations policy was still being revised
Moviment Graffitti activists recently camped outside the Planning Authority offices lamenting the fact that permits were being issued even as the fuel stations policy was still being revised

There will be no ‘new’ fuel stations constructed outside development zones, and relocated fuel stations will no longer be permitted on agricultural land, a review of the controversial fuel service stations policy will propose.

While the policy will insist that no take-up of fresh agricultural land will be allowed, the welcome development, however, jars with last week’s approval of a Burmarrad petrol pump on land certified by the PA’s agricultural advisory committee.

The document, to be released imminently, will repeal the existing Fuel Service Stations policy of April 2015, and any pending development application – except for commercial petroleum filling stations– shall be assessed according to the new policy.

Crucially the policy will apply to all pending applications, of which there are currently around 12. These include controversial applications for the relocation of fuel stations to ODZ sites like the Rabat Road in Attard, and to Hal Far, which would be overruled by the policy change.

But much will depend on whether the Planning Authority will continue to process applications before the new policy is given the final seal of approval. According to law, the draft policy will have to be issued for public consultation for a period of six weeks. If, following the public consultation, the PA decides to make new changes to the policy, it will have to hold another round of public consultation of another six weeks.

Subsequently, the policy will have to be discussed in parliament’s standing committee on the environment and finally submitted for the approval of the minister. Short of a moratorium on decisions related to pending applications until the new policy comes in place, the PA board may still end up approving fuel stations under the 2015 policy.

While the timeframes of public consultation are dictated by law, much will depend on the length of time taken by the PA to assess the public feedback and on whether changes to the draft are made following the public consolation. It took the PA a full nine months to issue the policy draft after a first six-week consultation held in June last year on the ‘objectives’ of the policy. 

Under the revised policy, existing kerbside fuel stations not deemed by the PA to create issues of amenity, safety or transport will not be eligible for relocation; those located partially or fully outside development zones shall also not be eligible for relocation; and the redevelopment and change of use of existing fuel stations located partially or fully in ODZ will not be considered.

Only an existing fuel station can be relocated to the following areas: designated industrial areas and SME sites; areas of containment; open storage sites identified in the Open Storage Policy; other areas designated for development in the local plan but excluding residential areas and residential priority areas, and urban conservation areas. However, in these cases, there will be no limit to the fuel station footprint with additional facilities, while other relocated fuel stations in other areas shall have a footprint not exceeding 1,000sq.m.

Relocations will still be allowed outside development zones, but not on agricultural land as was the case with the five ODZ petrol stations permitted in Maghtab, Luqa, Marsaskala, and two sites in Burmarrad.

In the new policy these sites must not be “related to agriculture and/or animal husbandry, and which results in a wider environmental benefit and is compatible with the context of the area” – again with a maximum footprint not exceeding 1,000sq.m. Under the 2015 rues, petrol stations are allowed on agricultural land which is deemed not to be of good quality.

Sites already occupied by permitted fuel stations will still be allowed to upgrade. But the upgrades will be limited to dispensing facilities for alternative fuels and electric charging stations, and ancillary facilities for vehicle maintenance services such as a car wash, but excluding all forms of retail and catering facilities – as is the case with a pending application for the Pit Shop fuel service station in Attard which is still being assessed. It may still include an ATM and vending machines.

Under the new rules, fuel stations cannot be located on agricultural land, areas of high landscape value or designated for nature and landscape conservation such as Special Areas of Conservation and Tree Protection Areas, scheduled sites or a site within 100m from a scheduled site. “Moreover, the proposal should not negatively impinge on areas protected for their scenic value or buildings or structures which, in the opinion of the PA constitute ‘landmark buildings’ and whose context deserves protection from visual intrusion.”

Fuel stations cannot be located within 300m from a ground water source that is used by the Water Services Corporation for the abstraction of groundwater intended for human consumption, such as boreholes, underground galleries of pumping stations and spring water systems.

The planning permit for a relocated existing station will condition the developer to a planning obligation in the form of a legal agreement to the decommissioning of the existing fuel station. The new fuel station cannot start operating unless the existing fuel station is first closed. The related infrastructure – underground tanks, dispensers and canopies – are to be decommissioned before a compliance certificate for the new fuel station is issued.

Fuel stations permitted by this policy document, not used for a period of three consecutive years within 30 years from the date of the issue of the permit, will have to be demolished at the expense of the owner, “and the site has to return to agricultural state”.

Absent from the draft policy is the existing ban on petrol stations being relocated within a 500m distance of an existing petrol station in the same direction of traffic, which forms part of the 2015 policy rules.

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