Outside Development Zone (ODZ) Is a Zero Tolerance stance

Administration Team | Published on 30 May 2011 | Updated on 07 Aug 2018

Outside Development Zone ODZ Is a Zero Tolerance stance

What is an ODZ?

One of the three major goals of the Structure Plan is stated as follows

“To use land buildings efficiently and consequently to channel urban development activity into existing and planned development areas, particularly through rehabilitation and upgrading of the existing fabric and infrastructure thus constraining further inroads into undeveloped land, and generally resulting in higher density development than at present”.

It is important to note that the term ODZ does not imply that other urban development cannot take place within ODZ boundaries. Policy SET 11 and paragraph 7.6 of the Draft Final Written Statement specify those categories of non-urban development which will be permitted outside existing and committed built-up areas. The Structure Plan provides that only the following categories of built-structures are considered normal and legitimate inclusions in the non-urban scene, ex. farmhouses and other genuine agricultural buildings, reservoirs, control buildings and walls/fences at archaeological and ecological sites.

Why does development still take place in Outside Development Zones?

The key differences between urban and rural may be expressed in terms of the different types of land uses occurring within a defined spatial context. Agriculture, low population densities and natural resources are typical of rural areas; urban areas are more associated with large settlements where people live and work, where the density of population and buildings is high and the amount of open natural space is low. Rural development is assumed to be mainly connected to facilities associated to horticulture, fisheries, agriculture and countryside recreation.

The impact of urban sprawl in past decades has influenced the extent of urban fringes. Some undeveloped land within the limits of development is still used for agricultural purposes, but can be considered as rural as it has been earmarked for future development. Similarly, some types of urban uses exist in areas outside development zone. Due to the nature of various developments, such developments cannot be located within the urban areas and therefore will be located in an ODZ, either due to hazardous nature (for health and/or safety reasons) or due to technical and/or operational requirements (e.g. Aircraft Maintenance Facilities and Reverse Osmosis Plants). This also includes development which is normally incompatible to urban areas (e.g. Waste Management facilities, fireworks factories and fuel storage facilities).

Policies that regulate an ODZ need not restrict development completely, nor result in policies which do not attain the desired protection to the countryside from development which is incompatible with the environment resulting in the loss of rural characteristics.

Settlements outside the Development Zone

Several groups of residential units are located in rural areas; these were established as settlements ODZ before adoption of the Structure Plan in 1992. The spatial analysis of settlements ODZ shows that certain groups of residential units are located in the vicinity of urban areas; the setting of other settlements ODZ tends to be dominated by a rural environment

ODZ – a speculative investment

Many see the opportunity to invest in development in an area ODZ since often the costs are significantly inferior to land in urban areas and therefore a development planning permit for urban development in ODZ areas can translate into a considerable economic advantage over a similar type of development in an urban area. This can be seen in agriculture related development with the necessary permits being used as a precursor for further development to take place in ODZ areas. Abuses that have been frequently observed in areas ODZ include above-ground reservoirs designed to accommodate window openings; pump rooms not serving any existing water source; agricultural stores half as large as the tiny agricultural plot they are supposed to serve; and bungalow-styled stables.  Other  illegal development involve the removal of soil from agricultural land to accommodate other uses, such as parking of machinery and large vehicles, or vice-versa, the laying of soil on garigue land to deceive the respective authorities into considering that the land in question is suitable for eventual development for agricultural purposes.

Undeveloped property generally has an attractive and seductive price due to the fact that initially there may not be road access, any electricity or water facilities, drainage connectivity and therefore prices for such property will be much less than that found in urban areas. Such properties would present opportunities for profitable investment if one could obtain a permit for development. As our population grows, and developable land is increasingly limited, the demand for undeveloped land is growing at a fast rate. What happens is that developers acquire land for development purposes, regardless of location and planning/environmental constraints, and then expect that this be considered to be developable.

Limitations to such Zero Tolerance

Although as far as areas ODZ is concerned, the strategic planning policy context remained pretty much the same over the past years, its interpretation varied significantly. In the earlier years, interpretation was fairly restrictive with some laxity observed on agriculture related development.

It is envisaged that future development would still be required to take place outside areas designated for development. Such legitimate development in an ODZ can only take place if it contributes to the National economy and supported by government initiatives.  Zero tolerance is directed only towards private residential, private commercial/industrial and private tourism activities.

Certain development cannot take place in a designated development zone due to various reasons namely, infrastructure related and economic ex. schools. One may think that it is more feasible to earmark a property to make way for such a project. Land acquisition and finding alternative sites for the occupants together with the socio-economic repercussions would cause the whole process to be impracticable.

One should also note the importance of the conservation of old rural developments. Abandonment or neglect resulted in dereliction of buildings and structures and loss of heritage. Although certain buildings are situated in an ODZ one should not exclude the rehabilitation of old buildings and structures. This built heritage located within areas ODZ requires protection and maintenance.  

Classification of ODZ areas

Areas ODZ should be categorized according to various environmental and planning factors. This should be split into two categories:

Category A – No new or additional development would be permitted to such building or uncommitted land.

Category B – An exhaustive list of permitted development would be considered. If undeveloped land is used then a tax shall be introduced since such land cannot be returned to its natural state (tax / m2 since development will pose an amount of risk to the environment).

One needs to have a clear identification of threshold that distinguishes the different categories. Presently, how the policies stand, there appears to be a lack of clear definition within the categorization of such land. Settlements that are contiguous with the development zone are regarded as purely urban extensions; urban extensions that are contiguous with development zone should be included within the development zone.

Such tax is efficient in that they pose a market disincentive, which will discourage people from building or making improvements on undeveloped land. This will try to curb land speculation as much as possible. From an environmental perspective this will result in the efficient use of land by improving compact city development, which will reduce urban and sub-urban sprawl.  Money obtained from such tax may be directed towards funding national environmental projects.

Protecting and Enhancing the Rural Landscape

Initiatives for rehabilitation of degraded areas and enhancement of the landscape need to be improved. Dumping, inappropriate design of buildings, obstruction of views and placing of structures inconsistent with the rural character, highlight the need for protection, enhancement and creative landscape management in rural areas. Visual impact on the aesthetic value of the countryside has been mitigated by schemes and development control process, but much needs to be done.

The countryside and the associated rural resources include the natural environment, the built heritage and the rural landscape. Preservation, improvement and management of such rural resources will be a benefit to all. The promotion of sustainable rural development need to be protected by promoting a strategy that requires integration of development within the local rural context, with an emphasis on the protection of the countryside and the efficient use of land and resources for present and future generations.

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Dr Maria Chetcuti Cauchi

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Dr Silvana Zammit


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