Updated Thursday 11.09am

Applications to build fuel stations on outside development zones near Ħal Far and Żabbar were withdrawn on Thursday, just before the Planning Authority was about to take a decision about them.

The applications had both been recommended for refusal, on grounds that the chosen sites are not eligible for new ‒ as opposed to relocated ‒ fuel stations, and the “excessive” amount of land they would take up.  

The Żabbar application, submitted back in 2010, would have taken up an area of agricultural land on Triq Villabate amounting to 3,700 square metres, above the maximum threshold of 3,000 square metres set by the Fuel Stations Policy, although the actual built-up area would have been smaller. 

The fuel station would have included a parking area, a commercial outlet, office space, industrial units and a garage. 

It ran into opposition from the Agriculture Directorate, Transport Malta and the former Environment Protection Directorate, the last describing the project as “upfront objectionable”. 

The directorate said the proposal was of significant concern as it would commit the entire site, part of a designated Area of Agricultural Importance, and currently subject to an enforcement notice for illegal works, to a development which it said was not acceptable on ODZ land. 

Meanwhile, the Ħal Far application, occupying a massive 4,200 square metres adjacent to a shooting range, similarly drew objections from environmental authorities as well as the Birżebbuġa local council and NGOs. 

No end in sight to long-promised review of planning policy

The Environment Protection Directorate said the proposal would create a precedent for further development along the arterial road, in an area which acts as an open gap between the Freeport and Ħal Far industrial estate. 

Din L-Art Ħelwa and Nature Trust had also objected to the continued uptake of virgin land for the building of fuel stations.

Lawyers representing the developer of the Ħal Far site asked for a reassessment as the applicant had submitted new plans indicating that a kerbside fuel station in Victoria (Gozo) would be decommissioned, making this case a relocation. The PA board, however, board ruled that such a change could not be made at this stage and that the application would have to be resubmitted. The applicant withdrew the case before a vote could be taken. 

The two applications were set to be the seventh and eighth decided on since the Fuel Stations Policy review was announced in January 2018. Two have been approved, one a renewal, while four were rejected. 

Several new applications have also been submitted in the same time, which will all eventually be assessed under the existing policy. 

There has been no word on the review since the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) presented its proposals for a new, more restrictive, policy last April. 

In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, planning Minister Ian Borg suggested that the revised policy would still allow relocated fuel stations to be built on ODZ land, barring only entirely new facilities.

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