The site in question consists of a field which is located outside the development zone of Zebbug (Gozo).
In its decision, the Commission held as follows:
1. The site was characterised by illegal development consisting inter alia of unauthorised deposition of soil, introduction of hard surfaces, removal of vegetation and ‘possible alterations to site topography and rubble walls’;
2. The proposed store and reservoir ran counter to the provisions of the Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2014, which prohibits ‘new development on land supporting natural habitats’;
3. The proposal was tantamount to ‘the destruction of natural landscape features’.
Aggrieved by the said decision, applicant decided to lodge an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Agriculture Advisor Committee (the AAC) had based its decision on ‘wrong information which was made available from the agricultural department’. Furthermore, applicant alleged that the Environment and Resources Authority (the ERA) was wrong to assert that ‘the site was illegally converted from maquis land to agricultural land’. Applicant, now appellant, went on to argue that the ERA’s conclusions were equally based on recent aerial photography whereas ‘previous aerial photography clearly indicates that the land was previously tilled’. To substantiate his arguments, applicant highlighted that the land bordering his property also consisted of agricultural land.
The Planning Authority stood firm against applicant being granted a permit. In reply, the case officer representing the Authority underlined that applicant had failed to provide ‘adequate proof of arable farming’ as required by planning policy. The proposed agriculture store was thus not justified. Once again, express reference was made to ERA’s conclusions pointing towards ‘the presence of natural maquis habitat and the absence of agricultural fields’. The case officer maintained that the area in question had been identified for its Ecological Value and was, in fact, being proposed as a ‘Level 3 valley system’. In his final remarks, the case officer reiterated that the appeal should be rejected so as to protect the existing natural landscape features.
In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the Authority had not brought sufficient evidence to show that the land was illegally reclaimed as it purported. In addition, the Tribunal agreed with applicant in that that the site was not scheduled as yet. More so, the location was adequately screened and applicant was a registered farmer. Against this background, the Authority was ordered to issue the permit.