Urgent environment measures discussed at Castille – FAA
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The importance of placing the citizen and his well-being at the centre of Mepa reform was the main thrust of Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar’s (FAA) discussions during a recent cordial meeting with the Prime Minister and Mr. Austin Walker, Mepa Chairman. FAA emphasised the fact that the country cannot afford to wait the length of time required for a well-studied reform of MEPA without adopting interim measures, as more highly damaging permits are being issued all the time. While it is not against development, FAA highlighted the fact that a number of measures can be enacted almost immediately and independently of MEPA reform, helping to ensure that development is sustainable.
This was reflected in FAA’s stand on the need for a review of the Local Plans. There is no reason why the review should not begin immediately, and FAA emphasised that the process would be manageable if targeted at specific, limited areas where mistakes made in the past affect a whole community like Hondoq, and Attard.
Among other measures that could be adopted straight away, FAA listed much greater use of Strategic Environment Assessments which would provide informed guidelines for future sustainable development.
There was complete agreement among all present on the need for a procedure to immediately dismiss applications which violate Mepa regulations on heritage and Out of Development Zone (ODZ) protection, along with the reversal of policies that encourage inappropriate building in the countryside.
FAA stressed the importance of a speedy revision of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations which is essential in order to rescale them and render them effective given Malta’s small size. Local priorities need to be addressed by more emphasis on Social Impact Assessments. The drawing up of the register of EIA consultants is fifteen years overdue and will hopefully be addressed without further delay.
In spite of the fact that the Minimum Energy Efficiency Regulations came into force in January 2007, the Building Regulations Department has done little to enforce them. It is outrageous that MEPA continues to issue permits, especially for mega-projects, which do not comply with this EU Directive, with no concern for the damaging implications to both our health and our economy.
FAA highlighted the Mepa Auditor’s dire situation, urging the Prime Minister to provide him with an assistant who is well-versed in planning regulations and familiar with the loopholes of the sector as well as with legal implications, so that the Auditor can once again start to function as an effective watchdog. FAA also called for an investigation into the issue of an Outline Development Permit for the construction of semi-detached villas Outside the Development Zone in Safi and the removal of an block of old townhouses from the Sliema Urban Conservation Area.
Finally, FAA stressed the need for effective enforcement and immediate direct action to stamp out building abuse which is presently almost non-existent. Whilst expressing satisfaction at the recent scheduling of heritage properties, the environment group emphasised the need for such properties to be maintained. FAA has often in the past called for financial assistance to owners of scheduled properties and for the long-overdue activation of the Heritage Fund.
FAA appreciates the fact that the authorities were very receptive to FAA’s recommendations which, if promptly implemented, could immediately benefit the environment while Mepa reform is being tackled with due attention.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar