Grave concern over fast track development permits – NGOs
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For years environment NGOs have objected when MEPA boards ignored the advice of Case Officers and granted permits to applications that violate Local Plans and MEPA regulations. Government has now proposed that “planning applications which adhere to local plans and planning policies will be fast-tracked, without the need of Environment and Planning Commission approval or Case Officer intervention.” Applications which do not conform to regulations will continue to sap MEPA’s resources instead of being dismissed.
The e-NGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth, MOAM, NASoM and Ramblers Association of Malta are asking who is going to adjudicate whether applications really adhere to plans and regulations, if not trained Case Officers. Given the fact that MEPA regulations are full of contradictions and loopholes, it would be very hard to assess whether applications conform without thorough study.
The NGO’s said that not only does this risk opening the floodgates to abuse, but in bypassing the Environment Planning Commissions, the Authorities are also bypassing an essential stage of the public consultation process. This is a very serious violation of the rights of civil society and EU directives as well as the sustainable development agendas that Malta committed to at Rio’s Earth Summit (1992) and Rio +20. Malta is already under EU scrutiny for lack of conformity to the Aarhus Convention on public consultation.
If the Authorities’ invitation to the private sector to propose sites for land reclamation implies short-circuiting the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment process, this would further discredit Malta and expose us to EU infringements and fines.
While the NGOs said that they appreciate the elimination of MEPA application fees on the restoration of village core properties, these too are liable to be ruined if applications are not adjudicated by qualified personnel. The Authorities’ statement that these measures will revitalise the development industry would seem to encourage a new wave of building, leading to the further overdevelopment of Malta’s towns and countryside already burdened by 75,000 empty properties and the lowest percentage of unbuilt area in all Europe.
More construction will undermine our health and tourism, while reclamation will affect scuba diving, one of the pillars of Malta’s tourism industry. It will also impact Malta’s banking stability, a fact flagged up by the IMF warning that Malta faces risks due to its over-dependence on the construction industry.
The five NGOs maintain that such questionable and worrying decisions, taken so early in the new government’s term of office without any public consultation, putting developers’ interests before public health, the environment and the economy, are a cause of grave concern. The planning process has taken decades to be developed with input from all sectors of society in order to serve the common good; it cannot suddenly be dismantled to serve the personal gain of the few.