A planning application entitled “to sanction construction of agricultural store and proposed extension to same” was submitted to the then Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The store is situated in a field located in an area known as Rdum Tal-Qammiegh in the limits of Mellieha.

The Environment and Planning Commission had highlighted that ‘the proposal runs counter to Criterion 4 of policy 2.5A of the Rural Policy & Design Guidance (2014), since the proposed agricultural store is not considered appropriate due to the sensitive nature of the area and the scheduling of the site as a Natura 2000 site, a Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance and an Area of High Landscape Value as per Government Notice 400 of 1996’. On this basis, the applicant’s request was rejected.

In reaction, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Agriculture Advisory Committee had formally opined that the proposal should be favourably considered. Moreover, the applicant pointed out that ‘other agricultural stores were approved within the same area’ and went on to give the pertinent application details.

In reply, the case officer reiterated the Authority’s concerns. The officer explained that the applicant’s proposal ‘includes an extension to the said agricultural store which results in an overall external footprint area of 15sqm.’

The officer also stated that ‘although the existing/proposed agricultural store conforms with most of the criteria listed in Policy 2.5A of the Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2014, the Authority was concerned about its location since the site in question is designated as a Level 2, Area of Ecological Importance, an Area of High Landscape Value in view of coastal cliffs and a Natura 2000 site.’

To this end, the interventions were held to detract from the landscape and the rural character of the area, thus contributing to the ‘overall environmental degradation of the surrounding rural context’. Concluding, the officer remarked that the AAC’s comments, though evidently in favour of the application, ‘do not take into consideration other planning issues which may arise.’ As for the quoted permits, it was underlined that such permits were issued prior to the site being designated as a Natura 2000 site.

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately confirmed that the room under consideration is located within a Natura 2000 site. Having said that, the Tribunal observed that interventions in such areas should be prohibited ‘unless it can be duly demonstrated through the necessary assessment that the development does not compromise the site scheduling characteristics”.

In this case, the Tribunal found that the then Environment Directorate had described the proposal as ‘unlikely to have had a significant negative impact on the integrity, structure and function of the coastal cliffs Natura 2000 site.’ Once the AAC had recommended the application favourably, the Tribunal concluded that the permit should be issued subject to a fine.