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The folly of new fuelling stations in Malta

Malta currently has 14 development applications for fuel stations on land which is classified as Outside Development Zone. Nine of these are new stations and five are to replace those found in urban areas. All these new developments will consume 46,500m2 of land in addition to the already 78 fuel stations which are operating today.1 The argument for new fuel stations is based upon the ever-increasing number of registered vehicles, which in December 2018 stood at 385,326. In the last quarter of 2018, 69 vehicles per day were newly licensed. 78% of all vehicles are passenger cars with the total number of electric powered cars being 926, making up less than 0.3%.2 Malta has the third highest number of cars per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU as well as the third highest share of cars which are 20 years or older.3 Fuel station developments are decreasing Malta’s already lack of open space, with 30% of the total country surface developed4 . In particular, station development promotes a business which is predicted to decline significantly in the coming 20 years as Malta follows Europe in the banning of new fossil-fuel cars. This will mean fewer station customers spread over greater businesses, resulting in lower income and potential closures. Once new land is developed, then it is unlikely that land will be converted back to its original state for the benefit of all. Transport is one of the few sectors in the EU where emissions are growing. The EU believes that electric vehicle uptake is the main solution to halt this trend. Many EU countries have committed to ban new, fossil-fuel vehicles from their roads, including Norway and the Netherlands by 2025, Germany by 2030, France and the United Kingdom by 2040, as well as non-European countries such as India and China by 2040.5 Malta is also considering this with the Environment Minister quoted as stating “a ban on the sale of diesel and petrol cars could come into effect much closer than 2040”. To mirror this shift in demand, all major manufacturers have hybrid or electric car models in their portfolio and plan to have a full electric model range soon. Malta is more suited for the adoption of electric vehicles due to its small size and therefore shorter distances. Indeed, the Government has issued incentives for electric car purchasing and electric car sharing. In this context, there are only very short-term benefits to building further stations and significant long-term issues. There needs to be a longer-term, holistic examination of transport-related policies, which include the use and type of passenger vehicles. Any new policies should seek to promote sustainability, thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads but also the type of cars, thus reducing Malta’s CO2 footprint and the infrastructure required. A 3,000m2 service station in Burmarrad, St. Paul’s Bay is now complete. It was constructed in an area designated as agriculturally important in Malta’s North West Local Plan and Outside of a Development Zone. This fuel station’s planning application was permitted on the grounds that it was in an Area of Containment, next to a commercial establishment. The Government’s Fuel Service Stations Policy states that new fuel stations will not be permitted within a distance of 500 metres from an existing fuel station. Yet there is a fuel station located 450 metres away, but the Planning Directorate overruled this breach of policy.  Mosta is the third most populous town in Malta. It’s main road has two fuel stations nestled amongst the shops and terraced houses. The Government introduced a policy which encouraged existing urban stations to relocate, which has a number of safety benefits. However, this increases the urban sprawl outside of town. As there are already fuel stations to the west and south of Mosta, both town centre stations could be closed down.  There is a new, as of yet-to-be-developed site in Maghtab, earmarked for the move of an existing station out of the centre of Mosta. After an application in 2014 was turned down, an appeal led to this being overturned and the application was approved.  Mgarr is a typical, small, rural village situated in the north west, surrounded by rich farmland. Its only fuel station is located in the village core, between the church square and the children’s playground. This fuel station had to be replaced by one nearby on the outskirts of Zebbiegh, yet although works started in 2011, the site is still a gaping hole and nowhere near completion. This perfectly demonstrates the controversy of balancing the benefits of moving a fuel station away from a village core but at the cost of the loss of a significant amount of agricultural land and placing an eyesore in a rural area.  Whilst it is important for a variety of reasons to relocate fuel stations outside of urban areas, it is also sad to note that such stations which currently occupy a small area, are being replaced by stations reaching up to 3,000m2 , 10 times larger than the ones they replace. Can our small, densely populated islands afford such massive land uptake? This is especially pertinent as the need for fuel stations will decrease within a few decades. The link for the website: