by Petra Caruana Dingli

Every now and again we are reminded that the development boundaries are not going to be extended, such as this week on Reporter.

If this is repeated often enough, people might believe that the areas outside the development zones (ODZ) are secure.

This is not to say that the boundaries are unimportant – they are crucial – but if more building is going to be allowed within ODZ areas then we need to change the subject.

People feel strongly about protecting ODZ land from further development because they want to preserve the countryside. They have seen with their own eyes that the countryside is diminishing due to development pressures. The countryside is our natural heritage and identity, our biodiversity, our landscapes, our recreational space, and so much more. It is not the boundary itself which has value, but the countryside.

While extending the development boundaries would be a very unpopular move, promoting ways to develop ODZ land gives a similar result – less countryside.

These are Trojan horse tactics. Instead of battering down the fortress walls, the bulldozer brigade is being rolled in through the gates, disguised as the economy. The amount of countryside that we have left is limited, but the needs of the economy are infinite.

A whole series of new policies is currently being drawn up, which will lead to further loss of countryside. So far, they envisage the building of new fireworks factories, petrol stations, agritourism hotels and solar farms, all of which may take up new ODZ land. The guidelines for farm buildings and stables are also being revised.

None of the objectives for these policies have been accompanied by facts and figures which show that we need all or any of these things.

For example, do we need more fireworks factories and how is this substantiated? Do we really need more petrol stations? Why can’t agritourism accommodation be housed within nearby old villages – what are the pros and cons of this? Have all efforts been made to maximise the use of existing and new roof-space for solar energy, before plastering the countryside with PV panels? How many farms and stables do we have and how many do we need? Can we see the studies please?

When so many changes are introduced at once, and in a piecemeal way without overall strategic planning, this creates a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for people who care about the environment – and this is being felt. The recent articles by Alan Deidun and George Camilleri reflect a general sentiment that is gaining momentum.