MaltaToday: Polidano’s not so ‘LIDL’ appetite for ODZ supermarkets
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NEWS | Sunday, 23 December 2007

Polidano’s not so ‘LIDL’ appetite for ODZ supermarkets

James Debono

Since 2003, construction magnate Charles Polidano has applied for seven supermarkets: five of them outside Malta’s development zones. Yet so far MEPA has only turned down one of the five ODZ applications – the one at Ta’ Mellu in Mosta.
On the other hand, MEPA has approved two inside scheme supermarkets in Santa Venera and San Gwann, and two outside schemes supermarkets in Luqa and Safi.
In so doing, MEPA defied its own case officer and the Agriculture Department when assessing the Safi application, and ignored the safety norms of the Civil Aviation Department when assessing the Luqa application.
MEPA has also asked the developers to present more information on an application in Gnien il-Ward next to St Dorothy’s school in Zebbug. An application for another ODZ supermarket, this time in Zabbar, is also pending.
LIDL, the mother company of the proposed supermarkets, wants to set up a chain of supermarkets on the Maltese islands. The European discount supermarket chain of German origin operates approximately 5,000 stores and has established itself in over 17 countries.
Without doubt the most controversial decision so far was to grant a permit for the Safi supermarket despite a recommendation for refusal by the case officer and the Environment Directorate.
MEPA’s surprise decision to approve the Safi supermarket came just a few days after MEPA confirmed its earlier decision to turn down the Mosta application. The developer had applied for a reconsideration after the DCC board turned down the original application.
The proposed Safi development occupies 6,500 square metres of land. The site lies in a rural conversation area, outside the limits of development and approximately 280 metres away from the nearest residential development in Kirkop and 110 metres away from the development in Safi.
According to the local plan the whole site falls within an “Agricultural area”. Only buildings, structures and other uses essential to the needs of agriculture can be permitted in such an area.
According to the case officer, the proposed supermarket breaches Local Plan Policy SMAG 01, which protects agricultural land from all types of inappropriate development other than uses essential to the needs of agriculture.
In letter dated 27 October 2006, the Agriculture Department objected to the proposal stating that following a site inspection they found that the site consisted of good, cultivated agricultural land.
The local plan also stipulates that large supermarkets should be located within or on the edge of town centres and not in the middle of nowhere, as is the case with the Safi proposal.
The case officer report called on the DCC to refuse the development as it represents “unacceptable urban development in the countryside.”
The development also conflicts with Structure Plan Policy SET 11, which does not permit urban development outside existing and committed built-up areas.
Yet despite breaching all these policies, the DCC board approved the development because it “does not conflict with agriculture policy” and “provides an essential service to the communities of the surrounding villages.”
MEPA has still to decide on another controversial decision to develop a supermarket next to St Dorothy’s School in Zebbug.
The application for this supermarket was originally submitted by MEPA deputy chairman Catherine Galea. But following a report in MaltaToday highlighting a potential conflict of interest, Stephen Tonna took over from Galea as Polidano’s architect.
Despite a clear recommendation to refuse this permit by MEPA’s environmental experts, the board refrained from taking a decision, calling instead for further information.
On the very shaky premise that the development is situated between other developments the board called for the submission of a block plan which includes the surrounding buildings.
According to the case officer report, the site lies in a rural conversation area, outside the limits of development just a few metres away from the St Dorothy’s School grounds and 400 metres away from the nearest residential development.
The only ODZ supermarket application which carried a favourable recommendation by the case officer was the one facing Carmel Street in Luqa.
But even in this case, MEPA’s own internal experts had objected.
The Environment Protection Directorate deemed the development “unacceptable in principle” as it would lead to further urban sprawl in an ODZ area. It also noted that the site lies close to a valley and would also intrude onto open views of the rural land in question
The development was also deemed unacceptable by the Natural Heritage Advisory Committee.
Even more serious objections were tabled by the Malta International Airport and by the Civil Aviation Department.
According to the Civil Aviation Department the Luqa supermarket lies on the “Public Safety Zone” of Runway 24. They noted that the proposed supermarket lies on the “Red Zone” - which is considered as an exclusion zone where no building development should be permitted for the safe conduct of aircraft operations.
Hence, they stated that in conformance with the policy of MEPA, as stipulated in the Malta Structure Plan 1992, they could not advice that any development whatsoever be permitted within the PSZ.
The Malta International Airport also “strongly objected to the proposed development” because the site is located on the approach path to Runway 24 and within 250 metres of the threshold to this runway and because the proposed elevations breach the runway approach protection surface by 2.5 meters;
In view of the negative recommendations of the Civil Aviation Department and the Malta International Airport, the Planning Directorate acknowledged that it had recommended a number of refusals in similar safety zones, but other permits were issued with a condition stating that “the Planning Authority shall not be responsible in any way for damages that may occur to the property or to the persons residing therein.”
Polidano has also submitted an application to develop a supermarket in Zabbar. The ODZ application lies on a stretch of agricultural land in Zabbar alongside Triq Agatha Barbara and Triq ix-Xaghjra. While half the area earmarked for the supermarket lies on land opened for development in last year’s extension of development boundaries, the other part still lies outside the revised zones.
The farmer occupying the land next to the proposed site has also submitted an application to build a greenhouse on his farm. But the proposed supermarket could cast a shadow on this greenhouse and others in the area.
An established supermarket already exists 500 metres from the one being proposed.
Despite the approval of four supermarkets, one of them approved more than three years ago, LIDL has yet to open its doors to consumers.

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