MEPA watch | Sunday, 01 February 2009

Robert Musumeci about a case officer quoting the incorrect policy

Case Details
A proposal was submitted before MEPA to construct a tool room in a piece of land which is located in an area which the South Local Plan defines as a Rural Conservation Area. The surrounding area consists mainly of agricultural land and according to the South Local Plan, the area is defined as a Strategic Open Gap.

Case Officer’s views
In his comments, the case officer went to state that applicant is registered as a part time farmer tilling 5.3.0 tumoli of agricultural land, out of which only three tumoli are located within the vicinity of the site where the room was to be located.
The case officer insisted that the permit should be refused on the pretext that the provision of tool rooms should not be permissible in Rural Conservation Areas, which in turn need to be protected in view of their scenic value.
To reinforce further his argument, the case officer underlined that the development runs counter to policy SMCO 10 contained in the Local Plan.
According to the officer’s interpretation, this policy indicates that no form of built structures (including tool rooms for farmers) should be allowed in designated Strategic Open Gap.
The case officer went further to argue that paragraph 11.4 of the Structure Plan Explanatory Memorandum and paragraph 1.10.1 of the Policy and Design Guidance for Farmhouses and Agricultural Buildings underline that agricultural rooms should be allowed exclusively to registered full-time farmers, tilling at least 20 tumoli of dry agricultural land for at least two years prior to the date of application.

DCC’s decision
The DCC convened last Monday to take a decision on this application and issued the permit on condition that there are no other storage rooms on the remaining holdings owned by applicant.

ROBERT MUSUMECI’s observations
The most notable observation surrounding this case derives from the fact that the case officer’s negative recommendations are based on incorrect policies which are no longer applicable!
The case officer’s report made reference to paragraph 11.4 of the Structure Plan Explanatory Memorandum and paragraph 1.10.1 of the Policy and Design Guidance for Farmhouses and Agricultural Buildings, both which have long been superseded.
It bears to recall that that the Authority has endorsed a new policy guidance framework in December 2007 (entitled Policy and Design Guidance for Agriculture, Farm Diversification and Stables), which specifically provides that part time farmers are eligible to agricultural tool rooms for the storage of farm machinery and agricultural equipment, provided that applicant submits an official statement from the Department of Agriculture stating that he is a registered arable farm for at least two consecutive years prior to the application and the registered arable farm occupies a total land area (i.e. arable agricultural land) of at least 5 tumoli in size (excluding land that is used for the production of fodder or which has been used for the production of fodder during the last two consecutive years prior to the application).
On an independent note, the fact that the site is designated as a strategic open gap does not infer that no form of development is allowed. It is largely acknowledged that rural rooms are characteristic of our open landscape. It is equally certain that the provision of small rural rooms do not detract from the rural landscape, provided the design is as low as possible with limited vertical relief to achieve a more informal, broken and less regimented massing.
Traditionally farm buildings have been built of local limestone and flat roofing and their natural colour and texture of the stone has helped establish a sympathetic relationship in our local landscape setting.
The DCC’s decision is therefore in line with current policy.


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