A full development permission was issued to the Civil Protection Department for the construction of a fire station and an underground rainwater reservoir. The site in question borders Triq il-Kanun, Sta Venera. The site is currently vacant, fronting a mix of residential, commercial and light industrial development. The Planning Directorate had held that the proposed development would contribute towards “a commitment to public safety”, adding that the plot is “situated in a strategic location to reach the central part of Malta as well as the North Harbour Region”.
Following the Commission’s decision, the Sta Venera local council lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the site was located within a residential area (as held under Policy CG 07 of the Central Malta Local Plan).
The council went to observe that fire stations are not listed amongst the acceptable uses that could be accommodated within such areas. Furthermore, it was held that a fire station within a residential area “will not be in the interest of neighbouring residential units since the activity will entail the use of electrical/mechanical equipment, may involve the combustion of materials and generation of prolonged percussion noises”.
To support this argument, reference was made to Structure Plan Policy BEN 1 which seeks to “safeguard the amenity of the area in relation to the existing uses”. Even so, the council contended that the authority had failed to establish the traffic and parking carrying capacity of the surrounding transportation network.
In reply, the authority reiterated that this development was favourably considered “in view of its contribution and commitment to public safety”. Moreover, the case officer pointed out that a fire station should be located in a strategic location “to reach the central part of Malta as well as the North Harbour Region”. But even so, the immediate site context was characterised by a mix of uses, notably commercial and industrial uses, notwithstanding that the applicant’s site was strictly speaking located within a designated residential zone.
The case officer went on to explain that “Malta’s Civil Protection Department strives to reduce potential fire hazards all over the Island, and thus the construction of a fire station should be favourably considered in principle in order to cater for localities which at present are hard to reach due to potential traffic congestion in the least time possible, in case of a fire hazard.”
In order to address the concerns raised by the objecting residents (regarding potential nuisance), the officer explained that “when a fire engine vehicle goes out from the fire station, the beacon light and siren are not usually switched on as it leaves the fire station but are only switched on when it encounters traffic obstruction on the road and in case of extreme emergency”.
As a final point, the authority highlighted that the traffic impact would be “far greater” were the site to be developed as a residential complex.
In its assessment, the tribunal referred to policy CG07 of the Central Malta Local Plan (of which reference was made by the local council in its appeal submissions). The tribunal observed that according to this policy, a land use which is omitted in that same policy may be favourably considered should there be overriding reasons to locate such uses within residential areas. In this case, the tribunal felt that an exception should be made. The tribunal held that, in any event, a fire station would generate less traffic impact than a residential complex of the same size.
Consequently, the tribunal went on to confirm the permit.