Loopholes that find creative workarounds in policy to get new development going in rural areas are set to get the axe, as the Planning Authority has published a reviewed version of the rural policy, with a mind to curb frivolous development in the countryside. 

The most notable change in policy comes in the form of a series of amendments that prevent dilapidated ruins from being turned into an ODZ villa. 

Last October, the PA came under fire for approving an application that would see a 31-square metre dilapidated room in Qala converted into a sprawling villa, taking up an excess of land in the pristine Gozitan countryside. 

Current policy allows for existing degraded buildings outside the development zone, including ruins, to be reconstructed, provided that it could be proven that it had been used as a dwelling in the past. 

The new policy proposes that small extensions may be granted to these dwellings if they are covered by planning permission and are inhabited at the time the proposal is submitted. 

In the case of the Qala ruins, the applicant had provided the PA with a death certificate of an 84-year-old farmer who was found dead in the area in 1921. 

Conversely, the new proposed rules say that applicants must prove that the building was used as a residence prior to 1978 and appears on aerial photos before that time, effectively writing off re-development of properties that predate the introduction of planning rules. 

Additionally, the proposed policy will see ruins excluded completely from these provisions, with applicants having to clarify with certainty that the property in question is capable of accommodating a dwelling. 

According to the new policy, "ruins" will be defined as dilapidated structures which have lost all or the majority of their supporting walls.

If an application meets either of these criteria, it may be granted an extension of 50% of the existing gross floor area, provided that the floor space in question does not exceed 200 square meters. 

Where the floor area of the dwelling has already reached or exceeded 200 square metres, no extension may be permitted. 

New dwellings will also not be permitted on restoration projects on vernacular buildings which have some heritage value but have not been scheduled. In the cases of vernacular buildings where there is no merit of this ilk, the policy discourages re-development entirely. 

The new policy also addresses a controversial loophole that allows disused livestock pens to be converted into new dwellings. 

While current policy allows for the re-development of such buildings into a single residence unit, the proposed amendments will only allow for a dwelling for a livestock farmer and only within the boundaries of the farm. 

A curbing of countryside hotels is also addressed in the new policy, limiting the change of use for agricultural dwellings into extensive agritourism accommodation. 

Previously, the policy would allow for agritourism developments of up to 10 rooms, with facilities that could include swimming pools over a floor space of 400 square metres. 

While not making specific provisions for agritourism, the policy permits for a change of use for existing farm buildings into one of “employment generating use”, which could cater for niche tourism and nature appreciation in a way that is compatible with the preservation of the rural surroundings. 

The new policy does permit a change of use for farm structures to be turned into “touristic accommodation”, however, the applicant must be a registered farmer of at least five years, with the site in question already having an area of 100 square metres, with a potential for extension of up to 250 square metres.

The document, launched last week, is up for public consultation until August 24. 



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