Din l-Art Helwa has submitted its comments to the government on the proposed MEPA demerger, and is requesting to present its views to the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills when it convenes to discuss the three new Bills after the parliamentary recess.
Land use is one of the main environmental pressures in Malta. Planning and the environment should be tackled holistically. Environmental expertise is central to planning decisions.
The new Planning Authority seems to be divesting itself of all environmental responsibility, however decisions on land use are also environmental decisions. Safeguarding the environment must remain one of the duties of the new Planning Authority.
A full study should have been carried out to assess the regulatory and environmental impact of the proposed demerger, prior to taking a decision on whether to separate the environment function from the planning function.
The proposed legislation does not offer any environmental benefits. The involvement of environmental expertise during the processing of planning applications will decrease and no additional environmental safeguards in the planning system are being proposed to replace this. It will be easier to build in environmentally sensitive areas and it will be easier to sanction illegal development in these sensitive areas. Only speculators should be happy with the proposed legislation as over time everyone else – including even bona fide property developers – will lose out as Malta’s countryside and urban environment is ruined.
The proposed system is manifestly less transparent than the existing set up, with far too much power vested in a smaller, politically appointed executive body and executive chairman. Much of the autonomy and transparency of the present MEPA board is being removed. Furthermore, the system as proposed will result in too much emphasis being placed on the Appeals stage, which should only be a measure of last resort.
The role and function of the proposed executive chairperson should therefore be reviewed, and the executive council should include independent members. The functions of the chief executive officer should remain distinct from those of the chairman. The supervisory role of the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Development should be increased.
In line with expectations, the new laws should have introduced greater environmental protection, greater transparency and greater autonomy and accountability. Instead, the opposite has happened with many of the gains in these areas in recent years being reversed in these proposed Bills.
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