News | Sunday, 13 September 2009
Bookmark and Share

Horse stables ‘loophole’ sanctions illegal building

A controversial policy, allowing the development of stables on derelict agricultural land, has been invoked yet again to sanction an illegal development.
The owner of the site, in the Qliegha area in Mosta, applied for the construction of new stables in a bid to sanction various illegal developments on his land.
MEPA’s development control commission approved the permit, on the strength of an inspection by the agriculture department which found the soil “shallow and not of agricultural importance.”
But the case officer’s report said that the area had been degraded as a result of the illegal development of agricultural stores on the site. The report said aerial photographs taken in 1998 and 2004 shows the site was an agricultural field, before it was illegally developed. “This certainly cannot be used to justify a development that can only be permitted on degraded land,” the report states.
The development originally started off as an application to build a reservoir and rubble wall. Later, a pump room was approved, followed by various illegal additions which the developer sought to sanction by applying for a permit to convert them into a stable. The report also cites the enforcement order which refers to the illegal agricultural store as a building used for recreational or residential purposes.
In its comments on the permit, MEPA’s Environment Protection Department denounced the “contorted practice of using apparently benign submissions as stepping stones for unacceptable development outside the development zone.”
The EPD also expressed concern on the “unjustified exploitation of notorious policy loopholes” and denounced the “malpractice of first developing illegally, and then seeking a formal sanctioning as if this would resolve the issues, impacts and policy conflicts created by the illegal development.”
And in March MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Committee made it clear that since the existing “agricultural store” is illegal, the “conversion of such building to stables is consequently objectionable.”
But applicant, Noel Vella, said he was willing to submit periodical evidence to verify that the new building will be entirely used for housing horses and not for residential purposes. He also presented proof of horse ownership, by the Malta Racing Club and Veterinary Service.
His architect Philip Mifsud, the Nationalist MP and a former member of the DCC, declared Vella was ready to remove all illegalities, remove artificial turf and rebuild the rubble walls against a bank guarantee of €25,000. He also accepted the condition that no change of use will be ever allowed. In this way rather than sanctioning the illegalities, the MEPA board ended up approving a new development legitimised by the its policy guidelines on the development of stables.
Moreover the original case officer’s recommendation to refuse this permit was changed to a favourable recommendation. But despite the positive recommendation the decision still split the DCC, with four members voting in favour, and Peter Axisa and Elisabeth Ellul voting against.

Stables galore
Since the keeping of horses is not an agricultural activity, the erection of stables for horses was not considered a legitimate form of new development in the countryside by the Structure Plan.
But the policy and design guidelines for agriculture, farm diversification and stables, endorsed by former Environment Minister George Pullicino in 2007, have facilitated applications for such ODZ development.
According to these guidelines, permission may be granted for the rehabilitation, conversion or change of use of any existing abandoned building, particularly an abandoned livestock farm building, for the stabling of horses.
Before issuing any such permit, MEPA has to ensure that a number of criteria are satisfied.
The authority may also grant permission for a 25% extension of the footprint of these abandoned buildings. Permission can even be granted for the construction of new ODZ stables, if they are limited to a minimum of four stable rooms.
Any such development must be located within 300 metres from the development zone boundary, and at least 100 metres away from adjacent dwellings.
The new agricultural policy has led to a sharp increase in the number of applications for stables. In February, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi revealed that 21 permits had been issued in the previous year. “An investigation is underway to ensure that these buildings are not used for any other purpose than that established by the permit,” he had said.
Two new applications for ODZ stables have been presented in September-one involving the change of use of abandoned life stock farm in Sannat and another one to construct stables for breeding purposes at Bur it-Tokk in Siggiewi.


Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download MaltaToday Sunday issue front page in pdf file format

All the interviews from Reporter on MaltaToday's YouTube channel.


Making the same mistake twice


Between a rock and a hard place


Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email