A development planning application entitled “To sanction boundary wall” was refused by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in May of 2015. The submitted drawings show a wall consisting of franka blocks bordering the backyard of a boathouse in Dwejra. The Authority described Dwejra as having “considerable scenic value’. It was also noted that the applicant’s location qualified as a Special Area of Conservation. 

Even so, the Authority pointed out that the proposal amounts to the “significant alteration of a rubble wall’, thus running counter to Legal Notice 160 of 1997 and Legal Notice 169 of 2004 regulating the conservation and maintenance of rubble walls and structures located outside the development zone. Indeed, the said regulations declare rubble walls and non-habitable structures as “protected” by reason of their “historical and architectural importance, their contribution to the character of rural areas, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna, and their vital importance in the conservation of the soil and of water.”

In the circumstances, it was held that there was no planning justification as to why the boundary wall could not be constructed in rubble stone. In conclusion, the Authority considered that the proposal was in violation of Policy GZ-RLCN-1 of the Gozo and Comino Local Plan. 

As anticipated, the applicant lodged an appeal to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that his proposal was in line with current policies. In his submissions, the applicant argued that his development contemplated the replacement of a four course deteriorated franka stone wall, using the same construction methodology. The applicant maintained that his proposal was deemed the more acceptable “when one considers that all backyards in the area are surrounded with franka stone walls.” Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Advisory Panel had found no objection to the sanctioning request. 

In reply, the case officer reiterated that, as a matter of principle, “the use of franka stone is not permissible when constructing boundary walls outside the limits to development.” As a final point, the officer remarked that Dwejra is “one of the most important scheduled areas in Gozo due to its natural, ecological and geological features”.

In its assessment the Tribunal immediately observed that the applicant’s proposal was tantamount to a new development which is in turn regulated by Policy GZ-Slwz-2 of the Gozo Local Plan.

This policy expressly states that “MEPA shall favourably consider proposals to attenuate the negative environmental impacts at Qawra and Dwejra”, prohibiting “the erection of additional boathouses or other permanent structures.” In this case, the introduction of the boundary wall only served to extend the footprint of the boathouse. For this reason, the Tribunal rejected the applicant’s claims.