Din l-Art Helwa notes that the saga on the fuel station relocation policy goes on, with the risk that yet more land outside development zone is lost to the unquenchable thirst for such facilities whilst a proper policy is being drawn up. The preparation of the update of the fuel stations policy was first announced in January 2018. Sixteen months, and two 3000 sq.m ODZ fuel stations, later, the draft updated policy was published for public comment, and again brought to the attention of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Environment and Development Planning this week.  Twenty months after it was announced the process is still dragging on. The outcome from this Committee was that, since some minor changes were made to the draft policy, it would need to undergo another six week public consultation stage.

This can be understood in two ways. Firstly, that the Government’s inability to conclude a brief policy document such as this in a timely manner, reflects a situation of utter incompetence and inefficiency. Alternatively, that the Government intentionally prefers not to conclude the revised fuel stations policy, thus allowing current applications to continue to be determined according to the existing policy which is more lax.

Public consultation is commendable, but it is difficult not to contrast the Government’s current desire to consult, with what happened when the Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio was being discussed in 2014. Back then, way after the public consultation period was over, the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning simply dictated that Mriehel should be added to the locations where tall buildings would be allowed.  No additional round of public consultation was insisted upon by the Authority, even though Din l-Art Helwa and other NGOs protested; and even though the Ombudsman for Planning declared that the last-minute inclusion of Mriehel should have been put to public consultation before approval. There seems to have been a rush to get the updated policy in place, back then, but there is no such rush at the moment.

The updated Policy discussed this week is an improvement on the 2015 document, but it still allows the relocation of fuel stations to ODZ areas, and fuel stations, already within ODZ, to be enlarged up to 1000sq.m.. And most importantly, there does not seem to be any intention to apply a moratorium – as has been applied in other situations – on the processing of all pending applications for fuel stations until the proposed Policy comes into effect.

More public consultation is welcome, but is it foot-dragging?

16 August, 2019