The number of fuel stations across Malta and Gozo is set to be capped, while stricter measures for the use of ODZ land have also been proposed in the new Fuel Stations Policy.
Published on Friday, Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia described the policy – a great source of controversy for the adverse environmental impact which it had over recent years – as one which strikes a balance between planning and environmental considerations.
The new policy introduces a number of significant changes to its predecessor. Firstly, the overall number of fuel stations in Malta and Gozo will be capped, and the only applications considered will be for the relocation of an existing fuel station.
For this relocation to be considered however, the existing fuel station must be creating a negative impact on the built environment.
New, stricter restrictions are also being proposed for the use of Outside Development Zones (ODZ). Here, extensions of existing fuel stations which are located either partially or fully in ODZ land will not be accepted, while applications for ODZ sites on agricultural, isolated, or sporadic land will not be considered under any circumstance even if covered by a valid development permit or committed pre-1967[embedded content]
The maximum size of fuel stations in ODZ has also been reduced from 3,000 square metres to a third of that – 1,000 square metres – including amenities. The height of any new fuel station will also be capped at seven metres.
ODZ sites in the close vicinity of industrial areas, SME areas, and Areas of Containment, have been removed from the list of acceptable locations for stations, while all Open Storage Areas have been removed as well.
A buffer zone is also being re-introduced between a proposed fuel station and vulnerable receptors. Relocations within 500m of an existing fuel station will also not be considered.
Finally, it was noted that the new policy will apply to all currently pending fuel station applications besides all new applications.
The Environment Minister said that the government is thereby laying the foundations for better planning and with a more intelligent vision, taking on board both the planning sector and environmental considerations.[embedded content]
“The revised policy sets a capping on the number of fuel stations, as well as stricter limits on relocations. It considers the well-being of our residential communities as well as the environment. I believe the country spent too much time discussing this policy when the topic which should have been high on our agenda is the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles in the next two decades in order to go electric,” Farrugia said.
Chairperson of Executive Council of the Planning Authority Martin Saliba said that the PA is confident that through this new revised Fuel Service Station Policy, the right balance has been achieved.
“We feel that this policy is limiting the take-up of land use for future fuel service stations only for genuine cases, where their current location has today resulted in them being an injury or safety concern to the amenity”, he said.
ERA Acting CEO Michelle Piccinino said that ERA had an important role in this review, and a significant number of changes that were proposed by ERA were taken on board in the final policy document. As a result, the revised fuel stations policy provides the necessary protection of ODZ while allowing for the relocation of existing fuel stations from problematic areas.
The Fuel Stations Policy has long been a source of controversy. The policy saw several controversial applications for massive fuel stations in ODZ land be approved. It was first slated for revision in March 2018 – over two years ago – and the slow progress on it had brought much ire from activists.
Moviment Graffitti even spent several days camped on the ramp in front of the Planning Authority’s buildings in protest against the delays last year. The most recent proposed iteration of the policy had faced a parliamentary committee last August, but had to go back to the consultation phase, again, before it could be enacted.
Moviment Graffitti welcomes new policy, describes it as “huge improvement”
Moviment Graffitti, who had been one of the policy’s most vocal critics, welcomed the revised policy, stating that while it’s not perfect, it is a huge improvement over the original 2015 policy which allowed 3,000 square metre fuel stations and commercial facilities on ODZ land.
“Although it took 2 years and 5 months for Government to review this policy, we nonetheless applaud this move and look forward to the revision of other highly problematic policies, such as those concerning rural areas and height limitations”, the NGO said in a statement.
“The long battle for the review of the Fuel Stations Policy, including several protests and direct actions, is further proof that pressure from the public works. Meaningful change can only happen if people organise themselves and demand an overhaul of those policies and practices that degrade our environment and quality of life”, they said.