Under the new fuel stations policy, the number of fuel stations in Malta and Gozo will be capped at the current level of 89 fuel stations, Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg told a parliamentary committee on Monday.
The saga surrounding the new fuel station policy has long been drawn out, with consultation for its first revamp having been opened a year and eight months ago – and it shows no sign of reaching a conclusion just yet, for it will now have to undergo a third public consultation period due to changes that have been made to it.
The new policy, presented to Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee by Buttigieg, includes various changes – the most notable being that petrol stations on Outside Development Zone (ODZ) land will be limited to 1,000 square metres in area and that only relocation of petrol stations will be permitted.
This effectively means, as both Buttigieg and government MP Clint Camilleri said, that the number of fuel stations in the country will not increase beyond the number there is today – that being of 89 stations.
Environment Minister Jose Herrera said that the policy was “much much better” than that which was put in place in 2015, saying that he “can live with it” in this format. He said described it as being well-balanced, but noted that he still had reservations over fuel stations being allowed on ODZ land.
The Opposition’s members on the committee – PN MP Jason Azzopardi and PD MP Godfrey Farrugia – both shared the same latter thought, noting that no relocation whatsoever to ODZ land should be permitted.
Azzopardi also queried what would happen to the ODZ or agricultural land which is being taken up by petrol stations in 30 years, which is the time by which point Malta aims to have vehicles functioning on electricity as opposed to internal combustion engines, which would make petrol stations somewhat redundant.
Herrera and Camilleri however did not agree with Azzopardi’s questions in this regard, with the debate first degenerating into partisan arguments between Camilleri and Azzopardi before then continuing with Herrera saying that it was difficult and almost futile to try and tie the hands of future administrations with such laws as they can be changed at any time.
He said that the only way that the hands of future parliaments can be tied is by amending the constitution, before saying that in his eyes parliament should emphasise that if the use of the land does not remain the same then it should be returned to its “previous, pristine state”.
Farrugia meanwhile noted that there was a positive change when compared to the 2015 policy, and expressed his gratefulness that the fuel station number will not increase from 89 – even though all Malta needs is 50 stations to sustain itself. The PD MP noted that there was no proviso which denotes that fuel stations cannot be built within 15 metres of the coastline.
This provision was duly accepted by Buttigieg, who said that he had no problem in including it in the policy. Farrugia’s suggestion of having a 50 metre buffer zone between ODZ land and any fuel station was however not accepted, with Buttigieg saying that this had been analysed but would only end up in more land being taken up.
Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus also took the stand in the committee, noting that it is better than the previous policy, even though there isn’t much pride in saying as much as the previous policy was “shameful” and has already caused a lot of damage.
He noted that a year and eight months had to pass for this policy to be discussed, saying that he could not help but worry that there are other interests at play which caused this delay, a delay during which applications for fuel stations inside ODZ land were evaluated and accepted.
It was at this point that Buttigieg said that the policy will – for a third time – have to go through the motions of a public consultation, news which brought reactions of disbelief and incredulity from Callus, who lamented that they had already been discussing a five-page policy for a year and eight months and noted that politicians were taking people for a ride while the country continues to be destroyed. Buttigieg retorted that a public consultation phase was required by law when there were significant changes to a policy document such as in this case.
Buttigieg said that all comments will be taken onboard and changes, where necessary, be made before the third public consultation will be launched sometime in the middle of September, after which point it will run for six weeks.
PN’s Jason Azzopardi initially asked for the committee to take a vote on the policy, but later withdrew this idea when he was told that the Planning Authority would have to bring the revised policy back to the committee for discussion before it is tabled in Parliament.
Partit Demokratiku welcomed the fact that no further fuel stations will be given permission to be built and that their number is to remain at a total of 89 fuel stations.
“As early as 2017, Partit Demokratiku put the review of the Fuel Station Policy on the agenda of the Environment Committee in Parliament and has campaigned on this issue ever since. However, those in urban areas can still be relocated into ODZ zones, while the need for fuel stations in general will decline due to planned electrification of vehicles,” the party said.
“Partit Demokratiku does not agree that the relocated fuel stations can be built in ODZ, even though restrictive conditions are being suggested to be imposed in the reviewed policy. It is imperative that our natural capital should be preserved,” said interim PD leader Godfrey Farrugia.
“The balance between development and the environment is still not being met and development threatens to continue to being one-sided and insensitive. We must not let down our guard at this critical hour,” said deputy leader Timothy Alden.
PD said it will continue to campaign for a stricter Fuel Station Policy, “free of loopholes open to abuse by insiders and the wealthy at the expense of the national interest and our environment. It is already late in the day for the sake of our country.”