The ‘Semma Lehnek’ initiative by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia, is a laudable initiative says Din l-Art Helwa and the organisation hopes it will encourage submissions from all those concerned with the wellbeing of our environment and sustainability.

Din l-Art Helwa puts forward the concern that while Dr Farrugia has highlighted the objective to reduce bureaucracy in development planning, it is still not clear  which measures will be put into place to ensure that  principles of sustainable development will be firmly safeguarded.  These measures must be clearly spelt out, says the organisation.

An on line opinion survey conducted by Din l-Art Helwa last January showed that the most pressing issue for the public was ‘Stop the building’. To this effect, adds the organisation, the combination of a reduction in planning application fees together with so-called ‘simplification’ of development planning procedures, gives the undesirable message that more building development may be encouraged by the government to the detriment of the environment. With the glut of empty dwellings on the market, the organisation would encourage the upgrading of insufficient quality buildings and the regeneration of run down areas, even those of recent construction, rather than the building of new ones, another recommendation that arose from the online public survey.

Furthermore, Din l-Art Helwa insists that public participation in all environmental issues, particularly land use, must be an underlying principle in any proposed changes. The fast-tracking of certain applications without the scrutiny of a public committee meeting, might reduce bureaucracy but would also reduce transparency.

While Din l-Art Helwa agrees with the updating and streamlining of policies, all policy changes must seek to ensure that the environment is safeguarded, including the countryside, the coast and our marine spatial areas.  Amendments to the local plans or major land reclamation initiatives should not be contemplated before a comprehensive strategic vision is in place following all necessary environmental assessments and consultation.

Two major concerns highlighted by the Din l-Art Helwa online public opinion survey were those relevant to the illegal use of land by unauthorised hunting hides and boathouses.  Din l-Art Helwa calls on the new government to finally remove all such illegalities and to follow up enforcement notices with timely action especially within urban conservation areas or outside the development zones.