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New MEPA policy to allow agro-tourism developments in ODZ areas

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New MEPA policy to allow agro-tourism developments in ODZ areasThe Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA), following Government approval, said that it has published the new revised Rural Policy and Design Guidance which will “regulate the future use of land in Outside Development Zones (ODZ).”

The Authority said the Design and Guidance document primarily seeks to address the challenges and assist the agricultural industry especially in the light of the growing number of European and national environmental requirements and obligations affecting land-use and agriculture. “The new Rural Policy also seeks to better reflect the existing and genuine needs of farmers.”

“The new policy document clearly states that any proposed development which would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the conservation value of any scheduled or protected area of ecological, scientific, landscape, cultural or archaeological value will not be permitted,” MEPA said.

“Any new development within ODZ areas will only be considered if it is directly related to agriculture namely dwellings for a dairy or swine farmer, green houses and for the creation of new boutique wineries, olive production facilities and agro-tourism accommodation.

“The latter three will only be considered if they guarantee a minimum number of full time employment. While an agro-tourism development will not be recognised as a hotel, to be considered, the facility must not have more than 10 rooms and must have 60 tumoli of land to support it,” MEPA said.

It added that the new concise rural policy and design guidance is replacing three primary policy documents which were used by the Authority when determining proposed ODZ planning applications. These included the 2008 Policy and Design Guidance – Agriculture and Farm Diversification and Stables Policy, the 1995 Development Control Guidance: Development Outside Built-Up Areas and the Development Control Guidance: Swimming Pools Outside Development Zone which was approved in 2000.

The new policy directs that any rebuilding will only take place on its permitted floor space, “meaning that on a case by case basis the footprint may be reduced.”

The issue of derelict permitted buildings in the countryside is also addressed. The policy allows for a wider range of permissible uses as long as the visual quality of the countryside is sensitively respected and improved. MEPA said that the policy also promotes the change of use of listed buildings to help in their restoration and upkeeping as long as their historic and/or architectural value is not compromised.

Other structures, including new stables, are being directed to make use of materials such as natural timber which make the development easily reversible once the structure is no longer required.

The Authority said that basements will also be considered positively in view of the fact that they help in reducing further land take-up, for example in cases of storage of agricultural implements, without creating an impact since the land is already committed and there is no visual intrusion.

In accordance with the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) regulations (2010), the Authority said it carried out a screening process of the policy and design guidance, “which concluded that a Strategic Environment Assessment is not required.”

During the six week public consultation period, the Authority said received close to 100 submissions on the proposed policies from the public, Periti, Local Councils, environment NGOs, political parties and other entities. The Policy was also discussed by the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Development Planning.

These submissions are being published together with the rural policy and design guidance and the SEA screening document on the Authority’s website at www.mepa.org.mt.

Photograph: Alain Salvary

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