Court sends controversial cow farms permit back to review tribunal
Controversial plans by the government to build 12 cow farms close to Dar tal-Providenza suffered a blow today as an appeals court ruled that the approved permit should be sent back to the Planning Tribunal for review.
The permit for the farms, granted in 2014, expired in August with no possibility for renewal, meaning the government must now return to square one and file a fresh application if it hopes to proceed with the plans.
“After years of work by Siġġiewi council, the San Niklaw area has been saved from a development that is entirely out of place so close to Dar tal-Providenza,” Siġġiewi mayor Karol Aquilina said following the judgement.
“I now appeal to the government to work with the council and Dar tal-Providenza to ensure that the area around the home is given a status of special protection.”
The project, which was first proposed in 2007, involves shifting farms from around the island to an area of around 70,000 square metres – 29,000 of which is virgin land – in the San Niklaw zone on the outskirts of Siġġiewi.
After the project was granted the go-ahead by the Planning Authority in 2014, the local council filed an appeal, based partly on the negative effects the project would have on the nearby Dar tal-Providenza home for persons with disabilities.
Doctors who provided testimony for the council’s objection had noted the possibility of considerable health problems for residents as a result of the vicinity of the farms.
The council also claimed that the site selection exercise was flawed as the council was not given any opportunity to make submissions and was never informed why the Siġġiewi site was chosen over the alternatives.
Moreover, the chosen site is directly adjacent to a scheduled World War II airfield, over which the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has also raised concerns due to the vicinity of the proposed farms.
These concerns were dismissed by the Appeals Tribunal, which confirmed the PA decision to grant the permit, prompting the Siġġiewi council to take the case to the Court of Appeal.
In its judgement this morning, the court ruled that the Appeals Tribunal had been wrong not to consider the council’s complaints over the site selection procedure. It therefore annulled the tribunal’s decision and ruled that the case should be reconsidered.
This procedure may now be academic, as the outline development permit granted by the PA in 2014 contained a clause specifying that it was valid only for two years from the date of issue, and could not be renewed.
In order for the permit to be valid, the government would have had to submit a full development application by August 9 this year.
Despite such an application being mentioned by finance minister Edward Scicluna in his Budget speech, the Siġġiewi mayor Dr Aquilina told this newspaper that no application had been traced.
As things stand, therefore, the government currently has no valid permit in hand for the development of the farms.
September 2006 - Government presents application for 12 cow farms in San Niklaw, Siġġiewi, close to Dar tal-Providenza.
February 2007 - PA validates the application for an outline development permit. Local council files objections.
July 2012 - Local council unanimously votes against the project.
July 2014 - PA approves the permit despite the local council’s objections.
September 2014 - Local council files appeal with the Planning Appeals Tribunal.
March 2016 - Tribunal turns down the council’s appeal.
April 2016 - Council takes case to Court of Appeal.
August 2016 - Outline development permit expires after two years.
October 2016 - Court of Appeal rules in favour of the council and sends case back to Appeals Tribunal.