Supermarket chain Lidl has submitted an application with the planning authority to open its first outlet in Gozo in an outside development zone area in Xewkija.

The chain, which already boasts five supermarkets in Malta, is proposing a store covering a large area in a zone known as Ta’ Żejta in St Leonard Street. Sources said Lidl would buy the property only if the permit was granted.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) is receiving submissions from the public until Friday.

Lidl is seeking a permit to erect a shed – like many of its other supermarkets in Malta – as well as ancillary facilities, including a surface parking area.

Applications for Lidl supermarkets in Malta in the past were dogged by controversy, especially after Mepa gave the green light for two of its outlets in Luqa and Safi. In both cases, Mepa’s Development Control Commission was criticised by the authority’s internal auditor, Joe Falzon.

A board of inquiry set up in 2009 to recommend whether further action should be taken against Mepa over its handling of the Lidl supermarket in Safi found no evidence of collusion, but said they interpreted guidelines in a “loose” manner.

The application had been filed by developer Charles Polidano on behalf of the Lidl chain and the construction of the supermarket was approved in April 2007. In his report on the project, Mr Falzon had described the go-ahead for the development on land outside development zone as a “gross irregularity”.

Mr Falzon had lambasted the board for unanimously approving the project, despite a recommendation for refusal by the Planning Directorate.

The report concluded such a permit should never have been issued on land outside the development zone. The report had led to the resignation en masse of the Development Control Commission in February 2008.

On its website, Lidl says it is constantly seeking to expand its network of outlets and was therefore willing to consider purchasing or leasing of land which had to have an area of approximately 6,000 square metres, to place a shop floor area ranging between 900 and 1,400 square metres as well as parking facilities, preferably on shop floor level, for between 80 and 120 cars.

The chain opened its first Lidl outlet in Germany in 1973 and quickly spread throughout the country during the 1980s.

During the 1990s, it developed its store network throughout Europe and now has more than 9,000 stores in 27 European countries.