Farmers will be able to provide agritourism facilities on their land under a new planning policy which, however, sets strict limits on new construction in outside development zones. The policy, approved by Cabinet, allows a maximum of 10 bedrooms to be offered by farmers who own at least 60 tumoli of continuous agricultural land or who pool their land.
Other facilities that will be permitted include boutique wineries, olive oil production and beekeeping structures as well as small retail outlets from where farmers could sell their produce.
The policy approved by Cabinet groups together in one simplified document three previous policies dealing with ODZ areas. It was rolled out this morning by the planning authority. Planning Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon acknowledged the policy was likely to cause a debate but insisted it was not aimed at allowing the construction of new dwellings in ODZ areas.
"The policy's main aim is to protect the environment while allowing the creation of niche agriculture sectors," he said. Dr Falzon said where development will be allowed - in cases like boutique wineries, olive oil production facilities and beekeeping - the applicant will have to enter into a contractual obligation that ties any dwelling with the use of the site.
"It will not be possible for a beekeeper to close shop and sell the house as a summer residence because any future sale of the property will have to keep the dwelling as part of a beekeeping operation," Dr Falzon said. The part of the policy, arguably the most controversial is the part dealing with agri-tourism that will allow farmers who hold 60 tumoli of continuous land to venture into tourism.
This had raised fears in the environmental lobby that previously untouched agriculture land would be gobbled up to build hotel rooms, pools and other facilities. But Dr Falzon insisted the conditions attached to such developments made it very unlikely that there would be a proliferation of buildings in rural areas.
"Owning 60 tumoli of land is the first requisite and there aren't many farmers who have such a vast expanse but even what can be built is heavily regulated and will be contractually bound," he insisted. The 42-page policy also deals with stables, livestock farms and for the first time allow farmers to have a small retail outlet on site to sell their produce.