Din l-Art Ħelwa and citizens who value the environment and Malta’s natural heritage are indeed grateful to The Sunday Times of Malta for enticing Environment Minister Leo Brincat to declare that he will champion the environment when Mepa is split up.
Astoundingly, in the interview he revealed that “he had not been consulted on plans to revise the out of development building policy”.
As a citizen who is more than normally informed as is the minister for the environment, it is strange that he did not use his own ministerial initiative to call for consultations and to speak out about these permissive regulations, which will turn Malta into one development zone. All he had to do was pick up the phone to his counterpart in planning.
At the same time, Brincat is happy with the separation of development planning from environment protection, which will take us back 30 years to the time that permits were given out at ministerial leisure.
He is content to have one vote on a planning board consisting mostly of government-appointed personnel and with his environment authority being relegated to a checking box on every building application, becoming one of many government departments.
For months, NGOs, DLĦ included, have requested the ministry for the environment to speak out. The minister could have delegated his office to download the new ODZ guidelines from the Mepa website as NGOs have done, gone through the nitty-gritty that can allow thousands of tumuli to be built upon and sent his comments to the authorities in charge of planning, including the Prime Minister, who retains this portfolio.
Maybe he did – but we are unaware of this.
DLĦ has insisted it is not left up to NGOs to champion the environment during this epic time of change but he has remained silent.
In his interview, Brincat stated that the promises made in the “electoral manifesto have to be carried out”, which is perhaps why he remained mum when the 20 policies that will change Malta’s landscape forever were out for public consultation.
This is without even considering reclamation projects that will impact on the coast. On these, apart from dream schemes announced in the media, nothing is yet known. Maybe the minister for the environment, whose remit also includes the 25 nautical miles of territorial waters, has not been consulted on these either. If he has not, we ask him to demand to be consulted immediately and give the public his feedback.
A reminder is timely for the minister to envisage what countryside will be left when the new ODZ regulations get under way.
The following schemes are to cement many green areas: wineries, olive oil processing, residential dwellings and shops for farmers, agricultural stores, agritourism accommodation with swimming pools, animal sanctuaries, stables, slaughterhouses, reservoirs, pump rooms, greenhouses, extensions to existing developments, rebuilding pre-1967 ruins, together with other policies permitting fireworks factories, petrol stations, solar farms, shooting ranges and community-led initiatives: schools, sports facilities, nursing homes, all legitimate activities requiring regulation.
However, Malta is too small to allow such piecemeal proliferation to invade the few open areas left for us to enjoy.
DLĦ has brought these, and many other regulations, to the attention of the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Development Planning. They are being approved by Mepa without a new strategic development plan in place and with no studies to back them.
Indeed, a document called Sped is out for discussion right now.
NGOs, including DLĦ, were invited to attend the parliamentary committee sessions while these regulations were being discussed.
The minister for the environment was not present. Had he been there, he would have heard the questions that he himself should have raised. He is still in time to insist on receiving answers.
Has the cumulative impact on land of these regulations been calculated? Where are studies backing such regulations?
DLĦ asked whether the environment minister had been consulted and who was protecting the environment. We would have hoped this message would have got to him as all sessions are recorded. It seems it did not.
Where does that leave the sustainable management of the environment when its minister does not himself push to be consulted on the use of its main resource: land?
While only one vote on the new Planning Board may be better than nothing, certainly it must carry a stronger voice than the one we have heard this weekend.
The ODZ policy is still awaiting ministerial approval, so there is still time for the minister for the environment to pick up that phone, strengthen his voice and make it heard, that is if he really intends championing Malta’s natural assets and our children’s right to enjoy them in the future.
Simone Mizzi is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.