The planning authority has approved a permit for the construction of a three-storey commercial building outside the development zone (ODZ) in Burmarrad, despite planning policies prohibiting such activity.

The site covers almost 6,000 square metres. It is designated as an area of agricultural value that Mepa is supposed to “protect from all types of inappropriate development”.

The development will consist of storage, offices, a retail outlet and offices. Policies regulating rural conservation areas prohibit commercial development unless it is of agricultural or ecological use, or of scenic interest.

The Mepa case officer recommended approval of the development, arguing the site had already been committed to industrial activity. The site was formerly used for wine production. It was given to Farmers’ Wine Cooperative in 1965 on emphytheusis for 99 years on condition it could only be used for agricultural activities. In 2008, the cooperative sold the long-term lease to B.C.B.T Properties, a company in which Burmarrad Commercials is a main shareholder. The lease of the public land was sold to the company for over €815,000. 

Burmarrad Commercials director Mario Gauci told The Sunday Times of Malta the project was not an extension of Burmarrad Commercials’ operations. 

The applicants attempted to obtain a development permit on site for a number of years under the former administration but failed. Following the change in government, the Land Department allowed the company to redeem the emphytheusis, which means any conditions tied to the use of the lease were no longer valid. 

The architect’s main justification is that the existing building is “a major eyesore” and the commercial development will result in “an overall positive impact on the environment”. 

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