An application for a garden centre which would take up just over 7,500 square metres of agricultural land will be decided by the Planning Authority on Tuesday.
The site of the application is at the end of Sqaq tal-Hofra in Attard on what is described by the case officer as “undeveloped rural land” bordered by rubble walls and assorted shrubs and prickly pear plants.
The site is in an Outside Development Zone (ODZ) and is classed as an Agricultural Zone.
The application, filed by DONIT Ltd, proposes the setting up of a garden centre and pet shop which would provide educational, conference, and office facilities at ground and first floor levels, including underground parking for visitors and staff, as well as underground storage facilities.
The premises would includea nursery, greenhouses and temporary stores for the retail of plants and agricultural produce as well as aquariums, cages, and so on for the holding of fish, reptiles and animals as pets, along and for the sale of garden furniture, and similar items.
The site also includes a cafeteria and toilet facilities including signage and underground reservoirs while the renewal or restoration of rubble walls is included in the application as well.
Plans show that the application will take up a total footprint of 7,575 square metres.
3,900 square metres of the site is reserved as an indoor space with greenhouses, while another 250 square metres is reserved for a cafeteria, another 250 square metres for a cashier area and 227 square metres reserved for a gift shop and a passage.
Just over 2,000 square metres is reserved for open areas, according to the plans.
The Environment & Resources Authority objected to the proposal from an environmental point of view as it considered that “the nature of the proposed development seeks to formalize further the countryside through the consolidation of commercial activities within this site which is identified as an agricultural area.”
“It is evident that the proposed development would have a significant cumulative impact on the surrounding rural environment, which is relatively open and undisturbed,” the ERA said in its objection.
The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability also objected to the development on the basis of concerns raised in an access audit report into the application.
The PA’s Design Advisory Committee considered drawings and visuals of the site, and requested additional photomontages showing the proposed development on the site, owing to the sensitivity of the same site.
However, the case officer’s report states that no such montages were received for assessment by the committee.
The PA’s Agriculture Advisory Committee pointed out meanwhile that the application is not registered with the Agricultural Directorate and that the site is registered on third parties, therefore objecting to the uptake of agricultural land for uses which are not authorised under current regulations.
A transport consultant meanwhile stated that in principle the proposal will not have a significant impact in terms of traffic generation, but noted that a traffic impact assessment had failed to show that the site can be accessed safely and conveniently by users, and whether development of the site in this way will affect access to third parties further along Sqaq tal-Hofra.
Justifying the proposal, the project’s architect argued that the site has already been disturbed following works carried out in relation Storm water tunnels and other infrastructural works as part of the National Flood Relief Project, which entailed the construction of a tunnel shaft within the site.
The architect stated that the site was disturbed through site clearance, stockpiling of aggregate, housing of a temporary batching plant and parking of heavy vehicles. The site has been left vacant and uncultivated ever since.
The architect also argued that there is another garden centre around a kilometre to the west which was approved without objection by the ERA and the PA, even though it was in a designated Agricultural area.
Ultimately however, the case officer said that the “application for outline development permission cannot be favourably considered in view of lack of information pertaining to justification of the proposal in terms of site selection exercise and the location of works, visual impact and environmental studies.”
Therefore, the application was recommended for refusal.
The Planning Commission will hear, and decide on, the application Tuesday 19 October.