Call for moratorium on fuel station decisions until new policy is approved

Activists Moviment Graffitti calls on Planning Authority to postpone fuel station decisions until new policy is approved

Moviment Graffitti protests the fuel stations policy rules outside the Planning Authority
Moviment Graffitti protests the fuel stations policy rules outside the Planning Authority

The activists who staged a moment-defining occupation of the Planning Authority’s driveway entrance in protest at its fuel stations, wants the government to postpone any decision on pending applications until its revised rules are approved.

The revised version of the 2015 fuel stations rules, which controversially pave the way for mega-stations outside development zones, was issued for public consultation on Monday.

The new policy stipulates that even pending applications, of which there are 14, should be approved under the new restrictive policy, which effectively bans the construction of petrol stations on agricultural land and only permits 1,000 sq.m fuel stations on committed land that is outside development zones but not used for agriculture.

This effectively overrules all pending applications, which mostly involve agricultural land and site areas of 3,000 sq.m.

“There is no sense in proposing a change while allowing applications already submitted to continue being decided on according to the old policy. It is also worth noting that it may take many, many months before any changes are effected. Therefore, Moviment Graffitti calls on the PA to halt any and all applications for fuel service stations until the proposed policy comes into effect,” spokesperson Andre Callus said.

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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.

Graffitti welcomed various aspects of the long-awaited review of the Fuel Service Station Policy. “We are satisfied that the pressure applied through several direct actions, supported by many other NGOs and echoed by much of the public, has had its desired effect. This shows that when people band together, positive change can be achieved,” Callus said.

Moviment Graffitti is cautiously optimistic about the changes proposed, nonetheless noting several points of concern which the organisation shall be raising in its feedback to the Planning Authority (PA) during the public consultation period.

It said the draft revised policy represents several improvements over the current one and that the options for take up of ODZ land are significantly more limited. “However, some points are of concern. The proposed policy requires no limit on size and no minimum distance between fuel stations, including those in Areas of Containment. It is to be highlighted that Areas of Containment are ODZ sites. This may open the door to massive complexes of commercial services for cars, using the excuse of dispensing fuel to justify the take up of large parcels of land.”

Moviment Graffitti maintained that fuel stations should be limited in size, with other commercial activities related to car servicing operating under a commercial policy. The current and proposed policies both allow this abuse.

The proposed policy allows for the upgrading of facilities for ancillary services. This seems to open the door for fuel stations to expand for reasons unrelated to the fuel dispensing function, again providing a loophole that can be exploited.

Moreover, the fact that ODZ land remains available for development, notwithstanding the increased constraints in that regard, continues to devalue the ODZ classification. 

“Moviment Graffitti stresses that ODZ should remain ODZ, and land already committed should not continue to be degraded, but should be returned to its natural state or used for agriculture. A similar loophole has led to the loss of a lot of ODZ land for residential purposes. We can expect the same if the proposed policy goes through. To err is human, to persist is criminal,” Callus said.

Moviment Graffitti is calling on the public to submit their thoughts to the PA throughout the consultation period to close potential loopholes and stop all pending applications until the new policy comes into effect. Details on this will be provided on our social media in the coming days.

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