A development planning application contemplating the reconstruction of an old room on the same footprint together with the construction of an underground water reservoir and the reinstatement of a boundary wall was turned down by the Planning Commission.

The site in question consists of a field located outside the Ghaxaq development zone. In its decision, the Commission held that the proposed reservoir ran counter to criteria 1 of policy 2.7 A of the Rural Policy & Design Guidance (RPDG) 2014 since the land was not ‘registered’ on applicant’s name. Moreover, it was alleged that the present topographic levels were not correctly indicated in the scaled drawings. The Commission, however, did not object to the rebuilding of the existing room.

In reaction, applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that he was both a shareholder and director of A. M. J. Investments Ltd. Applicant, now appellant, explained that the said company owned the land in question whereas he was ‘recognised’ as a farmer. Appellant argued that the reservoir was required  ‘in order to collect rain water runoff that otherwise would be dispersed at sea’ since  ‘every agricultural land (if it is being cultivated) requires that it is watered, irrespective of whether it is registered or not’.

It was also highlighted that should the request be denied, ‘the source of water irrigation would come from boreholes’.  Using this logic, the Commission’s decision went contrary to ‘good environmental principles’. Concluding, appellant rebutted the Authority’s allegations purporting that the site levels were incorrectly shown.

In reply, the case officer representing the Planning Authority maintained that claiming to find a solution by ‘illegally extracting water form a borehole’ was not acceptable. The case officer reminded that ‘water extraction’ is not permitted at law. In addition, it was pointed out that new water reservoirs may only be permitted if prior clearance from the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) and from the Environment Resources Authority (ERA) is obtained.  The case officer reiterated that the drawings failed to reflect the situation on site and went on to allege that the levels were ‘adjusted’ so as to ‘justify’ the construction of the walls.

In its assessment, the Tribunal made reference to Policy 2.7A of the Rural policy guidance, which inter alia provides that “new reservoir/s for rain water harvesting may be permitted provided that the structure(s) is/are located on registered land but shall not be located on land supporting important natural habitats’. The Tribunal observed that ‘registered land’ should be construed as ‘land registered with the Agricultural Directorate’.  In this case, appellant had submitted documentary evidence attesting that he was indeed a registered farmer.

More so, the Tribunal was surprised to learn that the Authority had not expressed concern with regard to the rebuilding of a room above soil level whereas it found objection to the construction of an underground reservoir. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit.