31 January 2008

DPA Amendments Welcomed by Civil Society The environment NGOs Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien għal-Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth (Malta), Gaia, Light Pollution Awareness Group, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers Association of Malta welcome the decision taken by government to amend the Development Planning Act regulations and give a stronger voice to civil society in such issues.

This falls in line with the Aarhus Convention and the promise of Government to give the public greater access to environmental information as well as the right of every citizen to voice his and her concern on issues affecting each one of us. The NGOs have over the last few days received a very positive response from both their members and the general public who see such amendments as finally setting a fairer playing field in matters of environmental justice.

These regulations will continue to close loopholes in the Development Planning Act where in the past some developers have often moved fast in order to demolish scheduled buildings or destroy areas out of development zone or Special areas of Conservation before an Appeal is heard. In such cases, a win at Appeal stage is worthless, as once destroyed, heritage and ecology cannot be retrieved. The success of these amendment will however partly depend on the efficiency of the scheduling process, with more resources required in this area, said the NGOs.

Similarly, the flagrant sanctioning of abusive building Out of Development Zone, which has encouraged so much more abuse, is to be stopped and enforcement will hopefully be strengthened. After years of cowboy developers failing to post site notices informing neighbours of development applications, the situation is to be finally redressed with the notification of neighbours by means of registered letters; a measure of justice to the public that all members of Parliament will surely support.

The extension of the objection period to twenty working days is to the advantage of both residents and Local Councils, while the concept of Registered Interested Parties, rather than Objectors, allows for more public participation and a less confrontational approach. The NGOs also welcome the Minister’s announcement that the public is to be given access to development plans and information on applications through the online e-applications system. These DPA amendments are surely a step in the right direction giving society a stronger position in cases affecting sectors of the populations, while helping to increase transparency, improve the planning and consultation process, and control illegal construction.

One now augurs that parliament will approve these regulations in favour of the rights of every citizen. The NGOs appreciate Government’s consultation with civil society in an effort to find solutions to the problems facing our Islands with regards to development and environment issues.