Żejtun’s local council, supported by a heritage NGO based in the same locality, has issued a call for objections against an expansion of an already-ongoing project that will carry a total footprint of 3,207 sqm which locals fear will lead to over-development in 25 November Avenue, the beautiful tree-lined approach road to the town.
While the local council expressed its concerns about how “the massive development will lead to further development in ODZ land in the area”, NGO ‘Wirt iż-Żejtun’ accused the applicants behind the development of a retail space for Homemate of “manipulating the planning process”.
“This development was first approved within policy parameters that are often stretched out to begin with, as in this case,” the NGO’s statement reads, arguing that the developers and their architect spent five and a half years “in continuous discussion with the planning authority to issue an acceptable application that could be approved”.
“After the development is essentially committed to and approved by the authorities, the requests for permits to allow further expansion start coming in,” the statement continued, referring to how applicants had applied for development in 2016 and then added further requests in 2021 after gaining approval for the first application in January of this year.
Since the previous local council had failed to object to the development when the objection period was still open, the NGO and the local council seek to prevent the developers from expanding their project by a further 200sqm as well as preventing any further piecemeal applications from abusing the planning process.
According to the planning authority’s Rural Policy and Design Guidance document, if an applicant has structures on ODZ land that they wish to replace with new development, this can be done as long as the same development footprint is kept, adequate development permits have been issued, and that the applicant replaces any natural elements or at least replaces them with landscaping.
The policy is also generally supposed to ensure “the rural area’s character is preserved and that threats of urbanisation are discouraged”, with further emphasis on the preservation of the “connectivity, appearance and integrity of the rural landscape”. Wirt iż-Żejtun further argued that the split applications are an attempt to force the application through in spite of what the PA’s rural policies outline.
The NGO pointed out that the original structures being dismantled and replaced by the applicants seeking to build a Homemate outlet had been abandoned for years, adding that such development would lead to further congestion problems in the area since the applicants recently applied for permission to reduce the amount of parking spaces. The same Rural Policy outlines that the existing road network should be able to cater for a project in order for it to be approved.
Both the NGO and the local council also stated that 25 November Avenue, which was recently refurbished with works costing around €1 million, would have to be done all over again since the project’s size would entail the need to build an underground electricity substation in the area to cater for it.
The local council also voiced its anger over not being consulted throughout the process, maintaining that it was the previous local council that had failed to issue an objection to the first application filed by the applicant in 2016. This, the council continued, would lead to a loss of investment as well as the uprooting of mature trees which would spoil the carefully maintained entrance to Żejtun.
“When construction works on the road were finished in December of last year, the local council took care to not only ensure mature trees in the area were protected but also to continue adding more,” the council’s statement read.
“Besides the fact that these trees which will be uprooted are protected species, we also invested a considerable amount of money to build root barriers that protect the road from damage from tree roots,” the council added.
Site history, upcoming changes
The site’s history indicates that the land, situated clearly in what was used to be an outside development zone area, was being set up for development since at least 2003.
That year, JM Construction Ltd had applied for a permit to sanction agricultural rooms and related buildings, indicating that works had already occurred without a permit. The planning board had rejected the application.
Another application (PA/5057/04) was filed in 2004 to sanction its use as a plant yard for construction purposes as well as a garage building. It was accepted four years later, after repeated refusals from the planning authorities.
The yard eventually fell into disuse, lying abandoned until 2016 when today’s site owners, Cannon Estates Ltd, successfully applied for the “redevelopment of existing plant covered by PA 5057/04 to warehousing/retail for the wholesale of goods Class 6A and includes demolition, construction of basement for storage and parking”.
The 2016 application (PA/03768/16) refers to a class 6A permit, meant for commercial property used for storage and distribution. However, the plans submitted by the developers clearly suggest that site will be turned into a retail outlet.
In their latest application for the site, Alf Mizzi & Sons, majority shareholders behind Cannon Estates, have asked for an expansion of the site’s retail space while also reducing the number of parking slots to accommodate customers.
This application, PA/5564/21, is still subject to objections filed by the public, as promoted by Wirt iż-Żejtun and Żejtun’s local council. So far, 200 objections have been filed in the 24 hours since the council and the NGO called for the public’s support.