Fuel stations built on pristine land would have to be a third smaller than current limitations and face a number of other restrictions, under recommendations for a new policy expected to be finalised on Monday.

The recommendations were passed on to Environment Minister Jose Herrera by the Environment and Resources Authority after he said he would review the controversial Fuel Stations Policy.

The present policy, which allows kerbside stations to be relocated to ODZ land, has stoked controversy as the Planning Authority has been flooded with 14 applications so far.

Between them, these applications could commit some 46,500 square metres of rural land to development – an area more than five times the size of the Floriana Granaries.

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Sources on Saturday said that Dr Herrera was expected to come to a decision following an early morning meeting with consultants on Monday.

The ERA recommendations, which have so far remained under wraps, call for the overall footprint of fuel stations to be reduced from 3,000 to 2,000 square metres, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed.

A number of loopholes have also been identified

The proposals also call for the total area to include landscaping and other land usage – something that had not been included in the original law.

“The problem with the original law was that we had one proposal, for instance, that had a fuel station of just under 3,000 square metres. But the landscaping made the total size closer to 5,000 square metres,” one source said. 

Critics of the fuel station policy have described the rush to the pumps as a “backdoor for development” – questioning applications that have included auto shops and cafés, deemed necessary by applicants to make the projects “economically viable”.

The ERA proposals call for facilities to be “strictly related to car maintenance”. While this might include car washing equipment, sources said it ruled out cafes, bars and shops. 

Critics had also questioned the “ridiculously low” minimum distance that the law says should be maintained between on fuel station and another – just 500 metres.

The ERA proposals suggest increasing this to 1.5 kilometres. 

“A number of loopholes when it comes to distance have also been identified, such as no longer allowing petrol stations to be close to one another if they are on the opposite side of the road,” the sources said.

The recommendations also suggest setting a height limitation of seven metres – two storeys. 

According on one source, the ERA board held a series of heated meetings in which it also discussed introducing a cap on the number of fuel stations allowed, however this was eventually shot down as impinging on the “free market”. 

An idea that was put to the minister by the board, however, was that of drawing a distinction between fuel stations that are being relocated to the countryside from urban areas and new applications for ODZ petrol stations. 

“As the law currently stands the distinction is not clear. What we are saying is that new applications should have to face even stricter limitations and rules,” the source said.

 

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