Sunday Times of Malta, 7th November 2010

Developers must invest in the environment to safeguard their own future opportunities and sustainable development, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority said yesterday.

The authority was reacting to the claim by Malta Developers’ Association president Michael Falzon that “developers are paying for Mepa to collect lizards”.

Interviewed during a business breakfast last week, the former minister said Mepa’s hiked tariffs meant developers were not just paying for application processing but also subsidising other aspects of Mepa’s remit, including its environmental tasks.

But Mepa stressed that spatial planning and the environment are two sides of the same coin: “sustainable development”.

“It is an anachronism to consider the two as unrelated, distinct areas,” a spokesman said, adding that Mepa was a regulatory authority and its role should not be reduced to that of a permit processing agency.

“Mepa’s regulatory role requires efficient integration of environmental and spatial planning considerations. As such, Mepa disagrees with any talk of ‘subsidisation’, as if environmental considerations were completely alien to development.”

The spokesman said development applications were not the only source of revenue for Mepa, and developers were not being expected to cover all its costs.

He added that Mepa attached great importance to the conservation of all local habitats and species.

Mr Falzon’s comments were also labelled as “insensitive” by Din l-Art Ħelwa, which said the former Nationalist minister should stop negatively stereotyping efforts to protect Malta’s natural environment.

Meanwhile, the association issued a statement yesterday saying that Mr Falzon “denies describing Mepa’s work as collecting lizards”.

“Neither did he denigrate the country’s biodiversity,” the association said, adding that Mr Falzon’s point was simply that applicants should not be burdened with funding other Mepa activities and initiatives which have nothing to do with processing applications.

“The cost of these activities and initiatives, which include investigating lizards, should be borne by the state and not charged surreptitiously to applicants of development permits, whether they are developers or ordinary citizens.”

When contacted, Mr Falzon said Mepa’s reaction had confirmed that developers were subsidising other aspects of the authority’s work, unrelated to processing applications, “even though the general public was never told about it”.

“In making this point, I might have made a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comment about the work that the environmental arm of Mepa is doing on lizards. I never meant to denigrate this aspect of Mepa’s work or to imply that preserving our biodiversity is not important,” he said.