2nd July 2014
The period for the public to submit comments to Government for the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development closed on June 20. The document called SPED, the new Structure Plan for Malta for the next decade, was available on Mepa’s website for all to study, together with an assessment of its environmental impacts. Government ministries, interested institutions, local councils, NGOs, have been able to air their views at Mepa consultations over the last three months.
Immediately after its launch Din l-Art Helwa submitted its views that the SPED as presented does not do the job of a new structure plan and falls very short of its obligations. The document is a superficial rehash of the objectives for the new plan published in 2012. It completely dismisses the purpose for which such a regulating policy is required and bypasses the legal parameters stipulated in the 2010 Environment and Planning Development Act. The Act, approved by Parliament, sets out in systematic fashion the purpose and obligations of a new national plan that must come into force when the old one elapses, which it did in 2012.
Thus a new SPED, also requiring approval by Parliament, is the most important guiding document that will determine how space is to be managed for the next decade.
Not so with this document. Legally and morally there is everything wrong with it.
The current environment Act in force stipulates that SPED should set out development policies with explanatory memoranda giving reasoned justification for each proposal contained within. This SPED is a cut and paste job which has just transposed the objectives of 2012 and presented them to the public for consultation as the final document. Yet another example of the short cuts this administration takes in its rush to fulfill promises to factions of its electorate. Furthermore, if the sketchy memoranda contained in the document are deemed sufficient by the planners to fulfill the law then they either don’t know how to plan, or they don’t care or they have received orders from above.
The document which the public was asked to consult needs to comprehensively balance socio demographic and economic needs with environment protection as stipulated in the Act. It should be accompanied by detailed spatial plans and maps that determine future use of Malta’s limited territory. The few maps that are included show superficial application of the parameters listed by the current Law. Superficiality has accompanied everything this administration has done so far in the good governance of our environment.
The process also calls for a Strategic Environment Assessment, the (SEA), on the SPED. Carried out by Mepa itself, this assessment is necessary if we are to adhere to European policy. It is of grave concern that the SEA on the SPED finds it so sadly lacking in information that it recommends future studies to truly assess the impacts. By its own admission the SEA lists no less than 37 instances where there is insufficient information for an assessment to be accurately made. One such example refers to impact on coastal areas by land reclamation. These are serious decisions which are going to change the identity of Malta without proper studies having being made.
There is a Machiavellian solution to SPED insufficiencies which, while it attempts to dress the document in respectability, actually shows how fatally flawed and rotten it is. The lacunae highlighted by the SEA are to be resolved when Local Plans are revised later this year. So now it is not the SPED that determines the Local Plans but the Local Plans which complete the SPED. Let us think this through again. Local Plans should emanate from a Parliament-approved SPED not the other way round. With the convenient passage of SPED responsibility to Local Plans, parliamentary approval will be sidestepped and policies changed at the whim of the Minister in charge of planning.
Din l-Art Helwa has made several submissions stating the above to Mepa. We believe that this SPED does not fulfill its intentions, lacks information, its Environmental Assessment cannot give the true picture due to insufficiencies and has passed the potato to the phasing in of Local Plans.
We are disappointed that we have not seen any attempt by the Minister for the Environment to dismiss this SPED as unacceptable and ask whether he again failed to be consulted by his colleagues as happened with the Out of Development Zone policy. Well, NGOs are there to do what government fails to do. Din l-Art Helwa demands that the SPED as proposed is thrown out, and presented again when it is complete. Till then the Short Path to Environmental Destruction has no legal foundation and is yet another testimony of a government working in the interests of a minority under cover of being the government of the majority.
Simone Mizzi is Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa
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