Times of Malta, 1st August 2008, by Fiona Galea Debono –

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority reform consultation process continued yesterday when Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had a series of back-to-back meetings with NGOs in an effort to better understand their suggestions and start making decisions.

The aim of the reform, he told the NGOs, is to have more consistency and transparency in Mepa decisions, reach higher levels of efficiency for clients and ensure better enforcement.

Din l-Art Ħelwa president Martin Galea said the focus was mainly on good governance, the biggest problems of the authority today being its many controversial decisions and the fact that most of the existing policies were not implemented.

He referred to the Mistra project as an example that had sent negative signals and cast a shadow of doubt over Mepa.

Speaking after a “positive” meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Galea listed the lacunae in the floor-area ratio of buildings in outside development zones (ODZs), where development still occurred, and in urban conservation areas, where construction was also rampant.

Expressing the heritage and environment NGO’s satisfaction that the Prime Minister took the Mepa reform under his wings, Mr Galea said it was one of the most pressing problems, other than the price of fuel, which had the biggest impact on everyone’s lives.

Mr Galea said he was optimistic, despite the many mistakes of the past, that the Mepa reform would lead to real changes.

“The fact that the Prime Minister has taken the matter into his hands means he is giving it due importance and, therefore, while mistakes will still be made, there is less of a chance of major ones happening.

“It is important to now concentrate on the quality of life. With an authority that is strong, transparent and does its duty, everyone should be content,” he said.

Dr Gonzi also met with the Chamber of Architects, the Chamber of Planners, the Users Committee, Nature Trust and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, in the presence of Mepa chairman Austin Walker.

The Mepa reform, Dr Gonzi said, was not being considered merely as an administrative process to reach higher levels of efficiency but as an ingredient without which Malta could not achieve sustainable development. Economic development and job generation had to be achieved while safeguarding the environment and quality of life, he said.

Dr Gonzi said he would not be deluding himself or anyone that it was easy to achieve such a delicate balance in a country with major density challenges in terms of population and vehicles. Solutions would not be easy but collaboration with related NGOs was the way forward and could make inroads into the challenges ahead, he said.

The function of the country’s architects in terms of sustainable development was vital and their suggestions were of immense value and would be given their deserved weight, Dr Gonzi told the Chamber of Architects.

Its president, David Felice, said it was expecting “big” things from the Mepa reform and that it had high expectations, adding that it was at the government’s disposal to assist in the process.

The reform issue, he added, was wider and went beyond just Mepa: The major changes had to lead to substantial and urgent improvement in the quality and the sustainability of both the developed and undeveloped environment.