MEPA Watch | Sunday, 08 February 2009

Robert Musumeci about the application of MEPA’s policies for Open Storage Areas

Case Details
An outline development request was submitted to MEPA, seeking permission to utilize a piece of land, which is located adjacent to a marble factory, for thepurpase of storing materials which are contingent with the factory operations. From the drawings which were submitted to the Authority, the portion of land in question amounted to an area of circa 2 tumoli . The marble factory, which is covered by a valid operating license lies in the periphery of Naxxar near to Mosta Road. Despite the location of he proposed development being in close proximity to a factory and despite the poor quality of the terrain, the Central Malta Local Plan has identified the site as a Strategic Open Gap and an Area of Agricultural Value.

Case Officer’s views
The Directorate, in its typical precautionary approach, stated that the Local Plan designated the area in question as an Area of Agricultural Value. According to the officer who prepared the report, the proposal was recommended for refusal on the pretext that favourable consideration should only be given in those instances where structures and uses are essential to the need of arable agriculture. It was further argued that the Local Plan did not identify this particular site as an open storage area or a hard standing facility, despite being located adjacent to a factory.
In his conclusive remarks, the case officer reiterated to the Board that the request was in direct conflict with the spirit underlining Structure Plan Policy SET 11, which aims to channel new industrial development within areas zoned for such uses.

DCC’s decision
The DCC approved the application last Wednesday, justifying its position by stating that the site lies adjacent to a committed industrial establishment. The DCC however made an unusual condition in the sense that both the access road leading to the site and the floor of the now approved storage development , should be constructed in glass blocks.

ROBERT MUSUMECI’s observations
It is accepted that MEPA should not permit any urban development in designated Strategic Open Gaps. The only exceptions to this rule should be limited to the construction of essential small scale utility infrastructures. In this case, however, one can hardly justify that the area under examination constitutes a strategic open gap in view of the factory building which already exists on this same site. Consequently, it follows that one cannot argue that by accepting the proposed development on this particular site ammounts to a precedent for the dispersal of further urban development into the surrounding area.
Whilst one may argue on the one hand that policy SET 11 aims to channel new industrial developments within areas zoned for such uses, the proposal in question in effect relates to a committed use and not to a new industrial use .
In parallel, it is pertinent to point out that MEPA itself has issued a guidance framework entitled Open Storage Areas Approved Supplementary Guidance. These guidelines which were approved by MEPA itself on 17th February 2005 and endorsed by the Minister on the 3rd of March 2005, specifically permit areas which are contigious to established committed industrial development land to be used as open storage areas. In this regard, the fact that the terrain is of poor agricultural quality as stated by the Department of Agriculture itself militated in favour of the applicant.
Thus what only remains unclear in this case is the planning rationale which led the DCC to compel the applicant to construct the floors in glass blocks .

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