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Aerial view of Marsalforn bay at Gozo, Malta

Farmers need a classification system – Labour Party

The Labour Party is calling for a great emphasis to be made on genuine farmers and for their proper classification.

It made its call in remarks and suggestions on the Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2020 draft.

Its comments followed a consultation process with delegates, activists, and the public regarding the proposed document.

The current policy, introduced in 2014, was, in general, a very positive step in the right direction, consolidating the aspects related to development in rural areas and replacing previously sparse and disjointed policy documents, it said.

Rather than legislative limits, the concept behind the proposals was to encourage positive interventions, recognise clearly the genuine needs of the farming community and ensure that the policy framework left little-to-no room for interpretation with clear guidelines, while advocating for a case-by-case analysis which took into consideration the rural context of the respective development. 

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The PL said that further changes to the current policy to curtail any development deemed unnecessary in rural areas was welcomed, but at the same time it was important to ensure that agricultural and animal husbandry industries were supported. 

These industries came with well-defined standards which had to be adhered to, and reflected in the policies. A substantial amount of European funds was also allocated to these industries, with clear conditions of adherence to these standards. 

 

The party said a departure from the term ‘ODZ – Outside Development Zone’ was noted. This was, however, contemplated in the local plans. A revision and streamlining in approach were needed to address the different realities which existed beyond the development boundaries.

“It does not make sense to keep categorising industrial areas and long-standing rural settlements as forming part of the outside development zone, due to their different contexts and realities,” it said.

Differentiation had to be made between applications by registered farmers for agricultural use, applications within the boundaries of rural settlements in relation to existing legally established dwellings, applications within industrial zones and applications in sensitive rural areas some of which were not agricultural areas.

To-date, in terms of processing, all applications were treated equally, be it a reservoir for a farmer under soil level, or the development of a warehouse in an industrial area.

Such policies did not have just an environmental impact, but were also of vital importance to the economy, not just in monetary terms but also in assuring an adequate local food supply, which, as manifested during the last months, was crucial for a small island like Malta to reduce as much as possible its dependency on other countries, the party said. 

It added this could only be done by making the agricultural (and fisheries) sector as accessible as possible, attractive, profitable and rewarding, to attract young people to take up such trades. 

In its document, the party proposed clarifications and additions to the existing definitions glossary, so as not to create anomalies or terms which meant different things in other policy documents. 

With regards to the eventual introduction of the updated policy, a number of consultations received remarked that it did not make sense to impose a new policy regime on ongoing planning applications, especially those which have been validated, it said.

Prior to the submission of a planning application, applicants, together with their professional representatives, evaluated the policy context and invested in the preparation for the required submissions.

Changing the context once an application was submitted would be counter to the applicant’s legitimate expectations. 

The main issues brought up related to two particular aspects: 
– the needs of genuine farmers and livestock breeders; and
– parameters in relation to existing legal buildings in the rural area, especially residences. 

The policy needed to introduce mechanisms which, with collaboration with respective authorities and departments, ensured that the genuine farmers were not penalised. The curtailing of unnecessary development in the rural areas, as proposed in the draft, was in principle totally agreeable, the PL said. 

It said there should be a great emphasis on who was really a genuine farmer and a proper classification. This could be based by the applicant being ‘livestock breeder’ and/or ‘arable farmer’ as certified by the Agricultural Advisory Committee; holdings registered with the Agriculture and Rural Payments Agency, part/full-time (or have been full time for a number of years), produce cultivated or animals being reared, and agricultural produce/products being sold, among others.

This could be monitored and due certification issued to the respective farmers yearly by the respective authorities. Bureaucracy for such genuine farmers was a big obstacle which was usually a deterrent for further initiatives.

While all the necessary checks and balances should be in place, streamlining of procedures and collaboration between the respective entities should be strengthened. 

With regards to the parameters in relation to existing legal buildings, the PL suggested the streamlining of the cut-off date of legal buildings based on aerial photographs so as to avoid different interpretations.

In general, the rehabilitation of existing abandoned buildings which could accommodate a residence was not being opposed to, as long as the permissible alterations were proportional to the existing building fabric to avoid urban intensification and small buildings being extended to accommodate a fully-fledged dwelling. 

Rather than basing the rehabilitation of a building on its previous use, a subjective case-by-case approach was being advocated for existing legal buildings which could accommodate the proposed use, subject that such use was compatible with the rural area and the site context. 

In all cases, with all the safeguards and parameters being proposed, monitoring of operations and enforcement remained key to the elimination of abuse, while avoiding policies which penalised genuine law-abiding citizens. 

The PL’s document in full may be read in the pdf link below.

SOURCE ARTICLE: Times of Malta