The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Almost a year since ERA reviewed fuel station policy, and changes still nowhere to be seen

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 19 March 2019, 09:45 Last update: about 4 months ago

It’s been almost a year since the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) had finalised its review of the fuel station policy, and over a year since the same authority had started the original review process, yet the Infrastructure Ministry has yet to publish the Planning Authority’s final proposals.

The review began after calls from environmentalists and PD MP Godfrey Farrugia. The current policy has seen a number of fuel stations relocated, most of which have been at the centre of controversy given the potential uptake of large amounts of land outside the development zone (ODZ). At the end of January 2018, the ERA was asked by Environment Minister Jose Herrera to begin a review of the policy, with the conclusions being published in April. In April 2018, Environment Minister Jose Herrera published the recommendations made by the ERA which, among other things, reduced the size of acceptable applications by a third and modified the distance between allowable station applications. The ERA had proposed that fuel stations should be at least 1.5 kilometres apart. The current distance limit is 500 metres. It is also proposing, among other things, that the footprint be reduced from the current 3,000 square metres to 2,000.

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In June 2018, the Planning Authority then began its own review process, however this has either not yet concluded or has just not been published yet.  Applications for fuel stations have continued to be processed by the PA since last January, and this situation had led to a few protests by environmental activists.

The Malta Independent asked the Transport Ministry for an update on the Fuel Station Policy Review, and asked when the Planning Authority (PA) will send it to the minister, what the main changes the PA is considering are and for information regarding when it will be issued for public consultation.

In response, the ministry said: “The revision of the fuel station policy is a comprehensive exercise that is going through an elaborate process in order to ascertain that any revisions in view of the various proposals received are reviewed thoroughly before the process is consolidated.”

They did not, however, provide any indication as to a release date and many ask why this is taking so long.

On 23 November last year, this newsroom had reported that a finalised version of the Fuel Station Policy Review had been referred to PA Executive Chairperson Johann Buttigieg, correspondence tabled in the Environment and Development Planning Committee in Parliament had read.

“A finalised version has been referred to the Executive Chairman last week and will be discussed Tuesday, following which the revised policy will be issued for public consultation for 6 weeks. Following this period the Executive Council will review the submissions, and a final opinion will be referred to the Minister for his endorsement. Should any major changes from the draft policy take place another public consultation process will be initiated,”  the correspondence last November had read. This indicated that the policy was close to being released.

This newsroom followed up on the situation on 12 February. Minister Borg had told this newsroom that he expected to receive the fuel station policy review from the Planning Authority soon, however this was over a month ago. The minister had said that the final discussions in the PA’s Executive Council were held and he expects to receive it soon. Asked on that day whether this will take weeks or months he said weeks.

This newsroom had, on that day, also asked the minister whether he is expecting many of the proposals made by the Environment and Resources Authority last year on the fuel station policy review to be included in the Planning Authority’s draft. The minister said that relocations of fuel stations within the village cores to ODZ will remain. “We know how many fuel stations remain in our village cores, and so we know how many relocations we can have. Another issue was on the size of stations. The current policy states that stations can be built up to 3,000sqm in size, and for everyone this meant 3,000sqm. I noted, and I am not pleased by it, that the Planning Authority was even granting them... It doesn’t mean that the PA has to approve 3,000sqm if the policy says up to 3,000sqm. That amount is going to reduce substantially,” he had said.

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