New proposed rural policy will support agriculture and safeguard the countryside

The Planning Authority has issued for public consultation a draft Rural Policy and Design Guidance which seeks to review the 2014 policy

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The Planning Authority has issued for public consultation a draft Rural Policy and Design Guidance which seeks to review the 2014 policy. The proposed policy document provides a clearer interpretation for the scope of rural development, placing at its core the genuine needs of farmers and the conservation of the rural area which is part of Malta’s natural heritage and biodiversity.

The revised policy seeks to bring about more clarity by which it gives explicit definitions to the meaning of certain terminology used in the document. For example, an existing building in a rural area clearly excludes any temporary or makeshift structures or ruins, trapping or hunting hides, and similar structures. The previous definition that an existing building is a permitted building or a pre-1978 building which can be seen on the aerial photos has been removed.

The draft policy is recommending a number of amendments to policies regulating development related to the agriculture sector and value-added activities. One of the key changes relates to the increase in the herd size for cows, sheep or goats for eligibility for new livestock farmer’s dwelling. Dwellings for arable farmers will be prohibited. The land requirements for eligibility for agricultural stores is proposed to become more restrictive. Development related to agriculture value-added activities will be limited to boutique wineries, olive oil production and honey-processing only.

The conversion of a farm for visitor attractions will be restricted to only 25% of the existing buildings. Tourism accommodation shall only be allowed on existing farmers’ dwelling, where the farmer would host tourists. The existing dwelling cannot be smaller than 100sqm and not larger than 250sqm. In both instances, the applicant has to be a registered farmer for at least five years and companies will not be allowed to apply.  The ultimate aim is to give tourists the possibility to experience the work done on a Maltese farm.

The draft policy has made it clear that no new stand alone buildings for stables shall be permitted.

Martin Saliba Chairperson of the Planning Authority’s Executive Council said “the draft policy is not only in sync with the spirit of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development but more importantly, seeks to prioritise that rural areas are intended to sustain the farming community while providing the public with a space to get away from the daily urban life and experience the natural richness of the Islands’ countryside and its biodiversity and natural heritage.” Mr Saliba added, “that the document makes it clear that urban development and urban activity in general, including human habitation, need to be channeled away from rural areas to those parts of the Maltese Islands designated primarily for this scope.”

The policy also spells out what uses will be permitted for the redevelopment of buildings in the Rural Area. Only scheduled buildings in rural areas can be converted into a residence. This will only be considered if one dwelling unit with a minimum floor space of 100sqm is created. Extensions to dwellings can only be considered if the property in question is visible on the 1978 aerial photos and has been used as a residence before 1978. The extension can be no more than 50% of the current floor space and never more than 200sqm floorspace and 150sqm footprint.

The proposed revised Policy and Design Guidance may be viewed on the Authority’s website www.pa.org.mt/consultation. Representations are to be made in writing and sent through e-mail address: [email protected]

Submissions on the proposed policy document are to reach the Authority by 24th August 2020.

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