Planning Watch | Sunday, 21 December 2008

Reservoir turned dwelling, and now stables

During the course of this week, various comments featured in the local press, alleging that the owners of four fields in an area known as Ħbuliet Moni in the limits of Mosta, who had originally filed applications in 2006 to build stables and agricultural reservoirs, converted these into small bungalows complete with lawns and terraces.
These comments run commensurate with a MEPA application to sanction alterations from two approved development notification orders (permits DN 447/06 and DN 736/06), contemplating the replacement of an approved reservoir with an agricultural store, and its conversion to stables.
An enforcement notice was issued on this site after the Authority became aware of the illegal whereabouts following the issue of the said Notification Orders. The enforcement notice, in fact, alleges that the reservoir was turned into a dwelling.
Notwithstanding the aforesaid, the application submitted by applicant in reaction to the said notice, did not make any reference to the creation of a dwelling. The application unequivocally indicated that applicant’s intentions were to convert an existing building (without referring to its use) to stables, underlining further that the alterations involved in this application were requested by the Veterinary Services & Agricultural Department.
The plans which were submitted as part of this application demonstrate the construction of four stables along with a manure clamp and a grooming area.
The case officer noted that the applicant is a genuine horse breeder who had furnished evidence (endorsed by the Malta Racing Club) that the application is a genuine attempt to provide shelter to four horses. The applicant also forwarded a waste management plan allowing for the collection of the generated waste in operation. On its part, the Malta Resources Authority also submitted their clearance and imposed a number of standard conditions with a view to ensure that the development is complies with standard good practice. The case officer related the request in the context of current policies regulating new stables in the outside development zone, and amongst the core considerations, the case officer highlighted that the proposal satisfied the minimum requisites regulating the number of stables. (According to current policy, applications for new stables must include a minimum of four stables)
The case officer further noted that contrary to what was being purported in the relevant Local Plan, the area under consideration featured no agricultural significance.
The case officer also pointed out that the site is located at a distance equivalent to 177 metres from the development zone of Mosta, falling within the required distance with respect to the nearest schemed residential development zone. (New planning policy requires that stables are located between 100 metres and 300 metres from nearest development zones)
On a final note, the case officer indicated that the area was considered to be a disturbed area, by reason of the fact works had proceeded following the issue of the Notification Orders.
Despite the positive recommendation by the case officer, the application, which was due to appear on MEPA’s agenda last Wednesday, was readmitted for public consultation. This means that complainants can resubmit further concerns until Sunday, January 04, 2009.
In the circumstances, more public pressure urging MEPA to refuse this application will come as no surprise.

Case Implications
To date, it appears that those objectors underlining that the development in question was being used as a dwelling, chose to ignore the fact that the application was in fact to convert the existing structure to stables (a development which is considered to be a legitimate development in ODZ). In their comments to the press, the objectors did not react to the fact that the applicant in question is eligible to the construction of new stables in terms of Policy 4.3 B contained in the document entitled Policy and Design Guidance on Agriculture, Farm Diversification and Stables, which was endorsed in December 2007. The objectors only hinted that the application was intended to sanction a number of bungalows on the outskirts of Mosta, whose owners had only applied to build reservoirs on the land. In reality this assertion is incorrect since the proposal does not relate to these facts. Development applications must therefore be assessed in the context of the proposed use being indicated in an application, while existing uses (which may run counter to planning policy) should never prejudice the thrust of a development application.
On a different note, it is positive to note that the views of the Department of Agriculture with regard to the quality of soil prevail over the textual provisions of the Local Plan. In simpler terms, textual provisions with respect to land characteristics of any area are only indicative.
Despite the aforesaid, it is very likely that the Development Planning Act will soon be amended in a way whereby applicants will no longer be able to submit applications to sanction illegal works in ODZs. Since the decision concerning the application under review has now been postponed, the request under consideration is likely to be dismissed on this pretext if the proposed legal amendments find their way through Parliament early next year – provided that the new provisions of the law are not applicable to applications which are already under process!

Robert Musumeci is an architect. His main area of practice focuses on MEPA development applications.


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