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Magħtab petrol station approved; change of mind despite no change in plans

Project was set for refusal just one month ago

The Planning Authority has approved plans for a controversial ODZ petrol station in Magħtab, reversing reasons to refuse the project it had itself set just one month ago.

The PA board voted on Thursday by nine votes to four in favour of the project. When the same board last met on December 7, the preliminary vote was six against and just two in favour.

No changes were made to the proposal since then, and the only new information presented to the board today was a petition signed by 145 Magħtab residents after the last hearing, declaring that they were in favour of the fuel station.

In December, board members had indicated they would refuse the application due to the rural characteristics of the area, the close proximity to residents, and the take-up of agricultural land on the site between Triq is-Salina and Trejqet l-Arznu, near the T’Alla u Ommu hill in Naxxar.

But these issues were today deemed insufficient, as the board ruled that the proposal was in line with the 2015 fuel stations policy, which allows petrol stations to be relocated to rural areas outside development zones.

Government and Opposition representatives Clayton Bartolo and Ryan Callus both voted in favour of the project, as did PA deputy chairman Elizabeth Ellul. PA chairman Vince Cassar, ERA chairman Victor Axiak and NGO representative Annick Bonello were among those opposed.

During the meeting, Prof Axiak expressed scepticism over the petition presented by developers, showing Magħtab residents in favour of the project.

He asked one of the residents present what he stood to gain from the project going ahead. The line of questioning was cut off by the PA chairman, who told the resident he was not required to answer. The resident subsequently said he did not wish to respond.

The developers have said the petition was created after they approached by residents who felt misrepresented by the opposition to the project.

The plans, by Paul Abela of Abel Energy, will demolish two derelict farmhouses and build a fuel station with an electric car charging station, car wash, shop, car mechanic workshop, stores and a parking area. A kerbside station in Mosta will in turn be decommissioned.

The PA board had rejected the same proposal back in March 2016 on the basis of SPED policy (Strategic Plan for Environment and Development) provisions which aim to protect and enhance the positive qualities of the landscape and the traditional components of the rural landscape.

But the planning appeals tribunal, in a decision later confirmed by the Court of Appeal, ordered that the application be reconsidered, ruling that the PA had not explained why the SPED should take precedence over the fuel stations policy.

Objectors had long complained that the development would bring with it a host of environmental issues including increased traffic, rural deterioration, noise pollution and flooding.

Concerns were also raised by the Naxxar local council and the Mepa Environment Protection Directorate, on the basis that the proposed development was “located in a predominantly open and undeveloped rural area and involves excessive land take-up”.

Developers argued today that the area is developed and the site sandwiched between two streets. They also said any inconvenience to residents was outweighed by the benefits of moving a fuel station out of the Mosta urban core.

This decision follows the approval of another fuel station in Marsascala under the same policy last month, taking up around 1,500 square metres of agricultural land in Triq Sant’Antnin, opposite the Family Park.

The Partit Demokratiku and environmental groups have called for the policy to be revised, arguing that it had failed to address its true objectives and encouraged speculators to buy relatively cheap agricultural land.

 

 

 

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