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Mixed reactions to fuel stations policy proposal

May not be enough to stop flood of applications

Andre Callus from Moviment Graffitti during the recent protest at the PA. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Andre Callus from Moviment Graffitti during the recent protest at the PA. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Environmental organisations have had mixed reactions to the proposed revision of the fuel stations policy, welcoming its drive to protect rural land but warning that it may not alone be enough to stop the flood of applications.

The revision would limit ODZ development to the upgrading of existing stations and reduce the maximum size of new stations from 3,000 to 2,000 square metres, as well as increasing the minimum distance between facilities to 1.5 kilometres, among other limitations.

However, the new policy will not apply to applications already pending before the Planning Authority, of which there are currently around 10. These will continue to be assessed under the existing, more permissive policy.

Environment Minister José Herrera said applying the new policy would illegally prejudice applicants, going against the principle of just expectation.

Read: ‘Valid reasons’ convince Labour MP to flip vote in fuel station permit

Andre Callus, a spokesman for the NGO Moviment Graffitti, which recently organised a protest at the PA calling for applications to be suspended until the revision is complete, described the decision was “insane”.

“If the pending applications are all approved, they will have approved all possible applications,” he told the Times of Malta.

“It’s useless to review the policy after all the applications have been processed.”

Mr Callus added that while the core of the revision – directing fuel stations away from ODZ land – was positive, the government risked creating a sudden rush of applications if it did not suspend the current policy until the new one was in place.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Carmel Cacopardo acknowledged that case law supported the decision not to apply the new policy to existing applications.

Nevertheless, he insisted the authorities should have proposed a moratorium on all fuel station applications, extending the just expectation principle from developers to the rest of the population.

“In view of the government’s declaration that it will set a date for the end of sales of petrol and diesel cars, the PA should apply the precautionary principle – which is a legal obligation – in the interests of the community,” he said.

“We cannot sacrifice more rural land when in the very near future there will be less and less demand for fuel stations.”

The precautionary principle obliges the authorities to take appropriate measures to protect the environment in the absence of conclusive proof of the need for those measures.

Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar environment officer Tara Cassar also accepted that the PA was “legally obliged” to process the pending applications under the existing policy, but Ms Cassar said it was equally bound to consult the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), which has objected to – and been overruled over – most fuel station applications to date.

“If the ERA finds that an application will have a detrimental impact on the environment and recommends its refusal, this recommendation shouldn’t simply be ignored because the proposed fuel station falls within the policy’s 3,000 square metre footprint benchmark,” Ms Cassar said, calling for the policy to prevent the further take-up of rural land.

“With land in ODZ valued at a fraction of that in the development zone, the lucrativeness of attaining a permit for the commercialisation of previously unbuildable land will remain being seen as too favourable to give up, making the need of an imminent revision critical.”

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