Green light for petrol station expansion on agricultural land in Marsascala

Marsascala is set to lose more agricultural land as Labour Party donors have managed to overturn a decision by the Planning Authority to now be permitted to double the size of an already controversial petrol station right across the locality’s family park.

The Planning Authority in 2019 got the support of a number of interested parties including residents, the Environment and Resources Authority and the Marsascala local council. Yet the applicants, part of Ghaxaq Schembri Barbros contractors, still got their way.

While the country is in full election mode, the Environment and Planning Tribunal (EPRT), led by government-appointed PA employee Joe Borg, ignored objections and last week overturned the Planning Authority’s refusal. One of the reasons given was that the agricultural land involved is not very arable.

The new permit will take up an additional 1,200 square metres of agricultural land and will include an expansion of a retail outlet, instalment of an ATM, larger offices, four large garages to include VRT, panel beating and mechanic services and a drying area for an already existing car wash.

Officially, the applicant is 46-year-old Patrick Guntrip from San Gwann, who is not involved in any major business as far as can be seen. The real interests behind this development can be traced to the Ghaxaq-based construction conglomerate Schembri Barbros, better known as Tad-Dobbu.

Research by The Shift shows that Guntrip’s wife, Josephine, is a shareholder of a number of companies, including Seaview & Sons Ltd, a subsidiary of the Barbros Group.

The same company, which already owns other petrol stations, including Pit Stop on the newly constructed Central Link road in Attard, is an official Labour Party donor.

According to the latest published declarations, sent to the Electoral Commission, as part of the financing of political parties law, in December 2016, just a few months before the 2017 election, Seaview & Sons donated €20,000 to the Labour Party.

PL document confirming 20k donation from fuel station applicants.

Shortly after Labour’s success at the polls, in November 2017, the petrol station’s first permit, which had been pending since 2009, was issued by the Planning Authority.

It is not yet known what additional donations, if any, the businessmen involved gave to the Labour Party for the ongoing electoral campaign.

William Lewis – the Labour Party’s organisation secretary – was the architect involved in all the permits relating to this fuel station, including the latest expansion.

After the Planning Authority turned down the latest expansion application, in 2019, lawyer Ian Stafrace was hired by the developers to help with the appeal.

Stafrace, a former lawyer in Prime Minister Robert Abela’s legal firm, was appointed CEO at the Planning Authority by the Nationalist government and resigned soon after Labour was returned to power in 2013. When he was at the Planning Authority, his wife, Claire Zammit Stafrace, was appointed Magistrate by then PN Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.

After a change in administration, Ian Stafrace started his own private practice. He also appeared as Minister Ian Borg’s defendant on his controversial pool development on ODZ land.

In their objections to the appeal, the Planning Authority insisted that the expansion of the Marsascala fuel station goes against its own rural and fuel stations policies and the proposed additions were of an excessive scale and would lead to overdevelopment of the site.

On its part, the ERA said that besides the development being located in an agricultural zone, taking up an additional 1,200 square metres of undeveloped land outside development zone, “there is no further justification for the further loss of rural land and associated environmental impacts to accommodate such extension for commercial use.”


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2 years ago

My God, what a reason “not very arable”!

This clear-cutting can only be stopped by good laws and honest employees, such as with every consumed sqm of arable land/green space at least 2 sqm of built-up area must be redeveloped into green space.

Good laws also include swift and severe punishment in case of abuse. For everyone.

2 years ago

Better hurry now, since petrol stations are rapidly becoming obsolete. Better build one now when they are about to become useless, so they can be converted into a mall, hotel or something else. “Dear planning authority, since petrol stations are now useless we would like to build a mall instead to protect out investment. Thank you very much.”

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