The Planning Authority has approved the building of a fuel station outside the development zone in Marsascala, overruling the objections of the Environment and Resources Authority.

The development will take up around 1,500 square metres of agricultural land on Triq Sant’ Antnin, opposite the Family Park and the Sant’Antnin Waste Treatment Plant, and includes a back office, shop, two garages and VRT and car services facilities.

Meanwhile, an existing kerb-side fuel station in Floriana will be decommissioned.

The PA board approved the proposal yesterday with only the ERA chairman Victor Axiak and NGO representative Annick Bonello voting against.

Studies carried out by the ERA, which objected to the application, concluded that the project was likely to have environmental impacts even after mitigation measures were put in place.

It will take up around 1,500 square metres of agricultural land in Marsascala

These included negative visual impacts, particularly from the Belvedere next to Sant’Antnin Chapel, as well as potential pollution of the local hydrology and sea-level aquifer.

The authority said the take-up of agricultural land would contribute to the increase in urban sprawl, and warned that allowing such projects in ODZ areas would “set a precedent for the development of similar proposals within the rural area”.

The ERA also criticised the site selection exercise carried out by the developer, which it said did not follow approved terms of reference and considered only alternatives which were “upfront non-starters”.

The assessment of alternative sites, according to the authority, “does not add value… and should not be considered” in the decision-making process.

However, these concerns were ignored by the Planning Directorate, which said the chosen site, compared to the alternatives, offered “the most compliant and adequate location for the proposed development”.

The site selection exercise carried out by the developer did not follow approved terms of reference

The negative visual impacts, the directorate concluded in its study, could be mitigated “by the use of earth colours in the building’ colour scheme”, while other environmental issues could also be addressed in the construction plan.

The directorate recommended the case for approval against a one-time planning gain of €50,000.

Din l-Art Ħelwa and Front Ħarsien ODZ also objected to the development.

The project is the latest to be approved under the fuel stations policy introduced in 2015, which allows petrol stations to be relocated from urban areas to ODZ land.

Environmental NGOS have contended that the policy is contributing to the build-up of rural areas, and both the Democratic Party and Alternattiva Demokratika have this month called for it to be revised or suspended.

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