The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Gżira Local Council appeals application to move Manoel Island fuel station to public park

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 18 August 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Gżira Local Council has appealed an application that would see the fuel station located next to the Manoel Island bridge moved further up the road, taking up part of the public park.

Among its objections, the council argues that while it had registered its interest in the application many years ago, it was not kept updated and was not even told when the application was meant to be heard by the Planning Commission.

The application was for the “reallocation of the existing service station due to road widening exercise. The project also includes the decommissioning of the existing fuel station.”

The existing fuel station is located close to the southern side of the Manoel Island bridge, facing the Gżira Strand, with a kiosk at the back facing the sea. The proposed location is around 100 metres further south on the same side of the Strand. “An area within the public open space is reserved for the fuel station as confirmed by Transport Malta,” the case officer’s report reads.

“It is currently part of a public garden and includes two she-oak trees and an olive tree which are proposed to be uprooted. This site is bound to the south by the Gżira public gardens and to the north by the existing fuel station and a food kiosk which are both to be displaced due to road widening. The Strand (which is proposed to be widened) is located to the west of the site. The rear part of the site is surrounded with sea which is the end part of the Ta’ Xbiex yacht marina.”

The appeal application reads that the Gżira Local Council is a third party which had registered an interest in the application and made representations to the same. “It is also an external consultee. However, the local council was not notified of the date of sitting of the Planning Commission during which the application was discussed and determined by the said commission. This is in breach of regulation. Furthermore, the application was not made available in the list of development applications pertaining to the locality.”

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Gżira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche reiterated that the council was not even informed that the application was going before the board. He said he was at a Planning Commission meeting for another application which was to be discussed and heard the Manoel Island fuel station item being discussed when he arrived prior to that case. “When I got there, I found this case being discussed. The council wasn’t even informed that it was going before the board.”

He explained that the application to relocate the station was based on the idea of road widening. He said that on the local plan, a link between Regional Road and the coast was meant to be built. “It is 99.99% certain that this won’t happen, and I don’t even want it to as I don’t want more traffic near the promenade. Plus, there’s a plan to reduce traffic on the promenade so widening the road there does not make sense.” He said he does not know of any application to widen the road.

“The station should be removed altogether or it should be built elsewhere. It will be an eyesore there, next to the only playing field we have; the only garden we have in Gżira.”

In its appeal, the local council argues that the plans are in breach of planning policies and that the application’s information was misleading.

“The case officer’s report states that the dimensions of the fuel station are as follows: Existing total site footprint, 533 square metres; Proposed total site footprint 660 square metres.

“However, a simple calculation using the Planning Authority’s geoserver shows that the proposed total site footprint is much larger – covering an area of 1,038 square metres. Consequently the application is misleading and does not reflect the situation on the ground.”

The council is also arguing a breach of the local plan and a loss of urban open space. The council is arguing that the site “is clearly designated as public open space. The relative local plan policy lays down a clear prohibition for development resulting in the loss of urban public open spaces (such as the one in question) unless the equivalent or greater area of public open space is provided in the same locality within development zone, or its use is complementary to the function of the public open space. No such alternative open public space has been provided by applicant.”

“The eventual decision notice was not notified to the appellant Gżira Local Council – an omission which is in breach of regulations and which hinders the appellant’s right of appeal as it reduces the time available to become cognizant of facts and to draft and file appeal.”

The council also argues that the time for making representations was shortened to seven days, “when there was no cause for urgency and the cause of the reduction was not indicated in the site notice published,” also arguing that this is in breach of regulations.

Members of the public may declare an interest in any development application, within 30 days from date of publication in the case of non-summary proceedings, and 15 days in the case of summary proceedings. This period may be shortened to seven days in urgent cases as may be indicated in the publication. In this case publication took place on 27 March 2019 – some 20 years after the application was filed. There was hardly any cause for urgency. In any case, the reason for this urgency was not stated on the notice,” the council argued, while attaching a photo of the site notice.

A number of other issues were also highlighted by the council, including that a fuel station on the water’s edge will impede sea views as well as pedestrian flows, as pedestrians will either have to make use of a narrowed walkway, spill into the road or weave between fuel pumps.

Another issue highlighted was that the case officer’s report made reference to documents which were not available to the public. The council argues that this inaccessibility to documents which are relevant to the whole decision-making process is unjust and abusive and breaches the appellant council’s rights to a fair hearing. “It impinges upon its rights of access to information and prejudices its rights to file an appeal.”

The proposal is also in breach of “a plethora of provisions of the Strategic Plan for the Environment (SPED),” the council stated, while also arguing that it goes against the fuel station policy, “which specifies designated areas which are potentially considered to be suitable to accommodate fuel stations without creating adverse incompatibilities. The development in question does not fall under any of these designated areas. Neither can the ancillary facilities of a car wash be justified as the area is subject to other relevant planning, environmental and amenity protection constraints.”



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