Green light for the extension of a service station on agricultural land in Marsascala

Marsascala is set to lose more farmland as Labor donors successfully overturned a Planning Authority decision to now be allowed to double the size of an already controversial petrol station just opposite the family park of the locality.

The Planning Authority in 2019 has gained support from a number of interested parties including residents, the Environment and Resources Authority and the local council of Marsascala. Yet the candidates, who are part of the Ghaxaq Schembri Barbros entrepreneurs, still succeeded.

With the country in the midst of an election campaign, the Environment and Planning Tribunal (EPRT), headed by government-appointed Palestinian Authority employee Joe Borg, ignored objections and overturned the last week the refusal of the Planning Authority. One of the reasons given was that the agricultural land concerned is not very arable.

The new permit will occupy an additional 1,200 square meters of agricultural land and will include the expansion of a retail outlet, the installation of an ATM, larger offices, four large garages to include VRT, beating of panels and mechanics and a drying area for an already existing car wash.

Officially, the plaintiff is Patrick Guntrip, 46, of 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 Ghaxaq-based construction conglomerate Schembri Barbros, better known as Tad Dobbu.

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

The same company, which already owns other service stations, including Pit Stop on the new Central Link road in Attard, is an official Labor Party donor.

According to the latest published statements submitted to the Electoral Commission, under the Political Party Funding Act, in December 2016, just months before the 2017 election, Seaview & Sons donated €20,000 to the Labour Party.

PL document confirming the donation of 20,000 of the applicants to the gas station.

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

It is not yet known what additional donations, if any, the businessmen involved have made to the Labor Party for the current election campaign.

William Lewis – the Organizing Secretary of the Labor Party – was the architect involved in all the permits for this service station, including the latest extension.

After the planning authority rejected the latest expansion application, in 2019 solicitor Ian Stafrace was hired by the developers to help with the appeal.

Stafrace, a former lawyer in Prime Minister Robert Abela’s law firm, was appointed CEO of the Planning Authority by the Nationalist government and resigned shortly after Labor returned to power in 2013. When he was in office Planning Authority, his wife, Claire Zammit Stafrace, was appointed magistrate by PN Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.

After a change of administration, Ian Stafrace opened his own private practice. He also appeared as a defendant of Minister Ian Borg in connection with his controversial swimming pool development on ODZ land.

In their objections to the appeal, the planning authority insisted that the Marsascala service station expansion went against its own rural and service station policies and that the proposed additions were excessively large and would lead to overdevelopment of the site.

For its part, ERA said that other than the development being located in an agricultural zone, occupying an additional 1,200 square meters of undeveloped land outside the development zone, “there is no other justification for the additional loss of rural land and associated environmental impacts to accommodate such expansion for commercial purposes.

Amalia H. Mercado