The Malta Independent 27 May 2016, Friday

Court says MEPA can hear Maghtab fuel station application but has duty to apply relevant policies

Friday, 29 January 2016, 17:43 Last update: about 5 months ago

A court has ruled that the MEPA board can proceed with the hearing on the controversial Maghtab fuel station but said it was the authority's "duty" to apply the relevant policies.

The case revolves around an application, filed by Paul Abela of Abel Energy, for the relocation of a Mosta fuel station to the site of two derelict farmhouses in Maghtab. The structures are situated on a triangular piece of land in Triq is-Salina and Trejqet l-Arznu, in the road leading up to T'Alla w'Ommu hill.

The 3,539 square metre facility would include an electric car charging station, a car wash, a shop, a a mechanic's workshop, stores and a 17-space parking lot.

Residents say the project would have an adverse environmental impact, such as increased traffic, noise pollution and rural deterioration. Pointing out the many accidents that have taken place in the exact spot over the years, the residents have also insisted the area is prone to flooding.

They also argue that the development is not allowed because Maghtab and Bidnija are afforded special protection under Policy CG04 of the Central Malta Local Plan and have been designated Category 2 Rural Settlements. The MEPA case officer, who is recommending approval, has said that the site in question is not considered to form part of the Maghtab 2 Rural Settlement so the policy does not apply.

The planning board was supposed to have decided on the application two weeks ago but the hearing was postponed after Maghtab resident Jonathan Buttigieg, filed a request for a temporary injunction. Mr Buttigieg argued that the board should not consider the application before it considered CG04.

Lawyer Tanya Sciberras Camilleri, appearing for Mr Buttigieg, pointed out that MEPA had already refused permission for warehouse garages in the area. She also insisted that MEPA's right hand was telling its left hand that its own policy did not apply in this case. "We are not trying to stop the MEPA board from hearing the application. We want it to make an informed decision."

Lawyer Ian Borg, for MEPA, said the request was only intended to ask the court to assume MEPA's role and decide which policies should be applied. He insisted that the MEPA board would not necessarily endorse the case officer's recommendation.

In a decree handed down today, Mr Justice Anthony Ellul noted that in his recommendation for approval, the case officer referred to a 'Minute 14' of the policy. The judge said the court and the objector did not know what Minute 14 was and Mr Buttigieg should be given access to the relevant information.

The court said, however, that Mr Buttigieg was given the opportunity to make written submissions to MEPA and would be allowed to voice his opinion at the board meeting. The case officer's was only a recommendation and the board was not bound to follow it. The fact that the case officer said the policy did not apply did not mean that the board would endorse that conclusion, the court said.

The Judge said he expected that Mr Buttigieg would be given the opportunity to make his case before the board. He also pointed out that the planning board had a duty at law to apply the relevant policies when deciding on an application.

In any case, the objector would still have a remedy available to him - in the form of the Appeals Tribunal - should he disagree with the board's decision.

The court said it did not believe that an injunction should be upheld at this stage. It therefore denied the request and cancelled the decree issued on 13 January.

In comments to this paper after the decree was issued, Dr Sciberras Camilleri said Mr Buttigieg was satisfied that the court had expressed itself in the sense that the Authority is bound to forward information held in the file which was not disclosed and that he is to be given all the opportunities available to make submissions regarding the application of a policy which was mysteriously discarded as not applicable."


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