Environment reform cannot wait – FAA
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Whilst Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) strongly backs the need for the urgent reform and restructuring of MEPA, it also recognises the fact that an overhaul of MEPA’s regulations and structures might take quite some time, during which period permits which will cause irreparable damage to the environment will continue to be issued.
With this in mind, FAA recommends that the following be enacted immediately as interim measures, since all the suggestions can be introduced independently of the overall reform of MEPA and would ensure that no further damage to Malta’s environment be avoided:
1. FAA calls for the reconstitution of the MEPA Board whose composition would be crucial during this period of essential restructuring, as it would determine the pace and direction of the reform. FAA also calls for the immediate restructuring and re-appointment of the MEPA DCC Boards with a reduced complement but on a full-time basis.
It is essential to ensure that these boards are composed of both qualified planners and qualified environmentalists while political appointees do not outnumber the other selected Board members. This also includes the Chairpersons and their secretariats so that a technocratic organisation is created and not one based on political appointees. This system would ensure that the views of both Directorates would be represented, whilst regulations and guidelines would not just exist on paper, but would be reflected in the decisions taken.
2. Consultation between applicants and all Chairmen and all members of the different MEPA Boards should be immediately prohibited by Parliamentary order.
3. The Register of Environment Impact Assessment Consultants (overdue since 1994) should immediately be set up with the proviso that those consultants submitting reports which do not faithfully reflect the reality of the case, would be struck off the Register and barred from carrying out future EIA assessments.
4. Environment Impact Assessment regulations should be urgently revised to give a greater weighting to Social Impact Assessments, as well as reflecting proportions of scale and truly protecting the Maltese environment in its entirety.
5. The Development Planning Act amendments should immediately be legislated as soon as Parliament convenes.
6. Immediate implementation of the Circular to Architects 8/02 which lists the minimum submission requirements for planning applications for any type of development such as vehicular access, justification for building in ODZ, MRA/MTA/Dept of Agriculture clearance etc. These guidelines are presently not being adhered to or enforced.
7. Immediate implementation of the Building Regulation Guidelines on the Conservation of Fuel, Energy and Natural Resources of 2006 which are similarly not being enforced.
8. The process of de-scheduling to remove protection from heritage buildings, allowing their demolition, which is presently at the sole discretion of the Minister who can approve without justification, must be stopped. De-scheduling must be by Parliamentary Order giving justification for such descheduling.
9. MEPA’s heritage and enforcement units which have been starved of staff should be strengthened by the immediate engagement and training of more staff. In some cases, Enforcement Direct action dates back as much as twelve years. Enforcement must finally be empowered and allowed to take action against abuse without hindrance, immediately moving to direct action to remove abusive structures.
10. The pre-filtering of ODZ applications needs to be urgently introduced to enable qualified MEPA vetters to dismiss certain clearly unsuitable ODZ applications which violate MEPA obligations, both from a national and an international point of view.
Man of the above measures are already legislated and yet not being implemented; this can and must go ahead independently of MEPA reform and should not be held back in view of the promised reform and restructuring – a reform which might take considerable time to shape and implement.
Moreover the reform of MEPA should not be seen in isolation but should encompass a wider strategy, from implementation of the National Sustainable Development Plan, to matters related to safety on construction sites to workers and citizens, third party rights, rent reform, self-regulation of the various professional classes, as well as resource management (including empty buildings, Joint Office properties and unutilised Government assets), most of which can be studied and implemented independently of the overall reform of MEPA.
Indeed it is essential that progress in these areas is not stalled by the deliberations necessary for the reform of MEPA since delay will negatively impact Malta’s citizens, their health and quality of life, the environment and the larger picture of the good of the Maltese Islands.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar