Environmental NGOs call for online access to plans for Ta’ Cenc
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Eight environmental NGOs today called upon MEPA to publish online the fresh plans submitted for the application to extend the existing hotel at Ta’ Cenc in Gozo. In a statement BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, the Gaia Foundation, Light Pollution Awareness Group, Nature Trust and the Ramblers Association called on MEPA to honour the commitment made to NGOs on the 15th of July 2008 to give “NGOs and Local Councils free, unlimited access to digital plans for all planning applications through its e-applications systems.”
Whilst planning applications have been made accessible to the NGOs through the government’s online e-applications systems, the fresh plans submitted for Ta’ Cenc have not been uploaded, making it more difficult to assess them.
New plans for development were submitted on the the 22nd of July 2008, after which MEPA sent written confirmation to BirdLife Malta that “in accordance with Article 32 of the Development Planning Act, BirdLife may view these plans and make representations within fifteen (15) days of receipt of this notification.” In spite of this, these plans have not been uploaded on the MEPA e-application systems for vetting by the NGOs. This was confirmed by MEPA who advised that the plans could only be seen at the authority’s offices. However, when BirdLife Malta personnel called at MEPA to view the plans, neither the case officer nor anyone who could provide further relevant information was available.
“It is unacceptable that NGOs are expected to submit their objections to a proposed development on the basis of a quick viewing of the plans” said Joseph Mangion, President of BirdLife Malta. “MEPA should honour its commitment to NGOs to provide online access to documents and should live up to its commitment to transparency in its processes.”
Repeated requests were made by the NGOs for the new plans to be made available online.
The NGOs expressed concern at the fact that fresh plans were being submitted for only a part of the original proposed development whilst the rest was subject to an appeal. The project should be assessed in a holistic manner, said the NGOs. Furthermore, the fresh plans still encroach on about 30% of the existing area designated as a bird sanctuary. The issue is currently subject to a pending infringement procedure opened by the Commission against Malta on the 27th of June 2007 for insufficient special protection area (SPA) designation.
In withholding accessibility MEPA is violating the EU Directive on access to Environmental Information as well as the Aarhus Convention signed by Malta. It is to be stressed that this is not just any application, but one that concerns all residents of the Maltese Islands.