Time for revision - Miriam Dalli

An application for the relocation of a Sliema fuel service station to a plot of land outside the development zone (ODZ) in Luqa was the target of a recent protest by a group of activists during a board meeting of the Planning Authority.

While every public entity has a right to exercise and fulfil its duties without undue influence from any side, it is clear that the message delivered by the activists is reflective of a wider concern – one that has also reached the Minister for the Environment, as is evident from his message to Parliament’s environment committee.

In his letter to the committee, the minister officially expressed his agreement with the proposals put forward by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The island’s environmental regulator has repeatedly expressed its position against the relocation of fuel service stations on land that is ODZ.

We require a serious revision of the fuel stations policy if we want to safeguard the limited green land that remains and not exploit it for developments which in my view are superfluous and unnecessary.

This is not a time for hysteria, but rather  for discussion directed at fine-tuning and improving the Fuel Service Stations Policy. This is the time for the ERA, as the environmental regulator, to ensure sustainable development and environmental integrity. 

It simply does not make sense to take up excessive green areas to develop mega fuel service stations, especially if smaller areas of land can serve the purpose of developing new fuel service stations on land already committed to industrial development and the relocation of fuel service stations located within the urban area.

The current situation with relocation is definitely not tenable.

In the 21st century, it is definitely not acceptable for residents to live their lives in the shadow of fuel stations.

This is the time for urgent and tangible action and not hysterical, partisan statements that lead nowhere

This sentiment echoes what the Mosta local council highlighted in its feedback submitted as part of the public consultation process – back in 2014 – when it stated that “within the locality of Mosta there are two kerbside petrol stations and two other petrol stations which though not exactly kerbside are situated within the residential area. All such petrol stations pose encumbrances within our locality.”

The Victoria local council submitted similar feedback.

The question that arises is on the way forward. Some are calling for a moratorium pending the policy review.

Others are stating that applications submitted to date are to be processed, assessed and decided upon as the current planning law stipulates. This is not a sentiment I personally share, as I believe that the uptake of land should be justified.

However, the policy provided the legal context and guidance within which current applications have so far been submitted.

Having said that, a decision needs to be and must be taken without further delay.

We have seen in this government a growing environmental conscience, reversing harmful decisions taken by past administrations to safeguard agricultural land such as that in Bulebel and protect historical heritage such as on Manoel Island.

Thus, I believe that the revised policy must take into consideration at least four fundamental factors: ODZ areas that are currently listed as prime agricultural land must not be considered; if an alternative cannot be found, only areas that have already been truly disturbed with legal development may be considered; the maximum size allowable for fuel stations should be drastically decreased from the current 3,000 square metres; and the amount of fuel stations needed for our country is to be established.

Although this may risk leading to the creation of a monopolistic entity, such an approach can be justified on the basis that Malta’s land is limited and we need to preserve the fragile environment of an over-populated island State.

Given the European Union’s vision of cutting emissions and a move towards electric and hybrid cars, it is imperative for the policy to take into account the longer-term perspective to a time when we have moved away from the internal combustion engines running on conventional fuels such as petrol and diesel.

This is the time for urgent and tangible action and not hysterical, partisan statements that lead nowhere.

Because I know that this is a government that takes action, I impatiently wait for the reviewed policy to come into force as soon as possible.

Miriam Dalli is a Labour MEP.

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