A planning application entitled: ‘To sanction part of field as horse training track and haystore and to construct stables with paddocks’ was initially turned down by the then Environment and Planning Commission in 2011.

The submitted drawings showed five stables (with paddocks alongside) together with a manure clamp, an underlying rainwater reservoir and a cesspit. Moreover, the site was to be surrounded by a ‘training track’. In its decision, the Commission found that ‘the proposed development is not likely to lead to an environmental improvement of the site’ and therefore ran counter to paragraph 1(f) of the stables policy at the time.

As a reaction, applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Review Planning Tribunal. In his detailed submissions, applicant argued inter alia that he ‘had been trying to find a suitable site with the intention of utilizing it as a paddock for his horses and ultimately for the erection of their stables.’

Applicant went further to explain that this was the only site available, being close to his place of residence. Moreover, it was pointed out that the land in question was ‘degraded’ for a long period of time. Also, applicant insisted that his intentions were ‘to have a safe and comfortable place for the keeping and training of his horses’, which he would deliver to Marsa ‘by appropriate horse cabins.’ Concluding, applicant rebutted the Authority’s allegations, insisting that the site would be ‘upgraded’ since a substantial area (amounting to 750 square metres) was to be landscaped ‘with different kind of trees mainly olive and citrus trees and also conifers.’

In reply, the Authority reiterated that the proposed development could not be justified ‘as a means of improving the state of the site’, because the site was officially designated as an area of agricultural value despite its current abandoned state.

The Authority went further to observe that applicant had committed further illegalities and asked the Tribunal to dismiss the appeal since planning applications may only be determined if the ‘illegalities’ are either removed or subject to a sanctioning application. In this case, it was alleged that the pin pointed illegalities, having been carried out at a later stage, could not form part of the current application.

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately observed that the appeal should be dismissed once the Authority had alleged that applicant had persisted with the illegal development. Moreover, the Tribunal held that the proposal was also tantamount to ‘inappropriate development’ in terms of Structural Plan Policy SET 11.

Against this background, the Tribunal rejected the appeal.

Nonetheless, the decision was appealed before the Court of Appeal. Applicant felt that the Tribunal had failed to substantiate the Authority’s allegations where it was stated that he had committed ‘further illegalities’ pending the Commission’s decision. Indeed, the Court agreed with applicant and ordered the Tribunal to reassess the case.

This time round, the Tribunal took a different approach. It was immediately noted that the Agricultural Department had not objected to the proposal during the actual application process. In this light, the site was not deemed to qualify as ‘good arable land’. Unlike in the previous instance, the Tribunal now decided that the Authority should issue the permit.