Agricultural landowners have found a loophole that allows them to register horses they do not own and apply for a permit to build stables, leading to multiple stables being registered on the same horse, industry sources have claimed.

Applications for the development of horse stables in outside development zones require an official declaration of horse ownership or registration.

Industry sources told Times of Malta it has become the practice to sell the passport of a deceased horse to a prospective applicant for the development of stables. The same passport is then used for multiple applications for stables.

A separate practice sees horse owners transferring their horses – on paper only – to prospective horse stable applicants. The latter apply for a horse stable but the horses are never physically transferred to him. 

Communication exchanges between prospective sellers and buyers of agricultural land, seen by Times of Malta, confirm this.

When a prospective agricultural land buyer told a seller they would like to buy their land and build stables, but owned no horses, the landowner said it was “a minor issue” and that he would procure a passport for them.

The buyer was told their other options were to either adopt an actual horse or pay a horse owner who did not own stables himself to transfer the equines’ registration onto their name. 

Farmers said this loophole contributed to higher prices for agricultural land because the prospect of building stables increases the land’s real estate value. 

Are the authorities aware?

Times of Malta asked the Planning Authority whether it was aware of the practice and whether it had taken any action on the matter. The authority was asked whether it had any measures in place that would prevent the granting of multiple stable permits for the same horse.

A PA spokesperson replied that when processing planning applications related to the development of stables, the authority consulted and relied on the information provided to it by the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC).

Pressed for a clearer reply, the PA directed the queries to the Agriculture Ministry.

A spokesperson for the ministry said the advisory committee was not aware of the practices flagged by the sources.

It added that the forum was neither a regulatory nor an executive board, but a consultative committee.

“The function of this committee is to provide professional and expert advice to the planning board on development applications related to agriculture and other development outside the development zone and to collate information from relevant authorities such as equine ownership in case of applications concerning stables. 

“Given its function, the AAC does not have the remit to prevent granting of multiple stable permits for the same horse,” she said, adding that the AAC’s remit in relation to development application emanated from various policies within the Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2014.

The ministry was sent supplementary questions on October 12, asking whether the Veterinary Regulation Directorate had any measures in place that would prevent the sale, transfer or retention of a horse’s passport once it is dead.  

It was also asked whether the directorate had any measures in place that would prevent the transfer of horses just on paper and whether it could confirm that the ‘new owners’ were in physical possession of the horses. 

No replies have yet been received. 

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