A planning application seeking the replacement of an ‘old fuel tank’ used to service a licensed petrol station was rejected by the Planning Commission despite applicant had insisted that the proposed tank would be compliant to European Norms. To substantiate its decision, the Commission held as follows:
1. The petrol station was located close to Mdina;
2. The proposal raised amenity and transport safety issues;
3. The development failed to comply with Urban Objective 2.1 and Thematic Objective 8.7 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) since it was not compatible with the existing character and immediate urban context;
4. The proposal was unsympathetic with the adjoining buildings and would therefore compromise the quality and visual amenity of the area.
Applicant felt aggrieved by the said decision and filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, contending that the permission should have been issued. In his appeal, applicant (now, appellant) put forward the following arguments:
1. The petrol station was covered by a valid operational license;
2. The station was also covered by a planning permit which was issued in 2006. The Authority was thus obliged not to stifle the current operations since applicant enjoyed a vested rights;
3. The proposal was limited to simply replacing an underground tank in line with health and safety legislation;
4. On the part of consultees, there was no objection to the proposal;
5. The current Fuel Station Policy allows the carrying out of upgrading works in existing petrol stations;
6. Contrary to what the Authority had asserted, the fuel tank was located below street level and thus, no visual issues were envisaged.
In reply, the case officer reiterated that the Authority was primarily concerned with the site sensitivity in terms of both visual context and public safety. Whilst acknowledging that the Authority was not intent on ‘shutting down all present petrol stations’, the officer however argued that those ‘currently operating in undesirable areas’ should be relocated.
In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that paragraph 2.2 of the Fuel Service Station Policy held that existing fuel stations, particularly those located in Urban Conservation areas, are to be relocated to more appropriate areas should there be amenity, safety or transport issues. The Tribunal, however, noted that in the present case, applicant only sought to replace an existing fuel tank. Moreover, the Tribunal observed that Transport Malta and the Malta Resources Authority were not against the proposal. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Planning Authority to issue the permit subject to applicant obtaining clearance from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage prior to commencement of works.