Times of Malta, 24th June 2008, by Ivan Camilleri

The European Commission has given the Maltese authorities until mid-August to explain changes in the North West Local Plan affecting building permits in Santa Maria Estate in Mellieħa.

Earlier this month, the Commission sent a reasoned opinion – its second stage of infringement proceedings – to the Maltese authorities for failing to observe the provisions of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive in relation to modifications made to the North West Local Plan by Mepa.

The directive relates to the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.

A Commission spokesman said this question can be referred to the European Court of Justice if it continues to be ignored by the Maltese authorities.

“The Commission raised the issue of the application of the directive in this case in a first written warning letter (letter of formal notice) in October 2007. As no reply had been received, a reasoned opinion (final written warning) was sent on June 6. Malta was given two months to reply.”

Commission sources said Brussels decided to intervene following a complaint filed by a number of Santa Maria Estate residents claiming that Mepa’s decision to revise the local plan was taken without the necessary impact assessments according to EU law.

According to the SEA Directive, impact assessments have to be carried out to ensure that environmental consequences of certain plans and programmes are identified and assessed during their preparation and before their adoption. The residents are claiming this was not done and that Mepa’s decision infringes EU rules.

Objecting to these changes, in 2006, the residents signed a petition condemning the change in plans which allows higher density and heights of buildings in an area restricted to bungalow development. According to the residents, these changes will result in a devaluation of their property.