Published on March 29, 2008 by Carmel Cacopardo
(Note : the words in green do not appear in the article as published, for some reason they disappeared in transit !)
Mepa reform is finally on the national agenda. Mepa will never be a popular organisation as most of its decisions are simultaneously viewed as acceptable or unacceptable by different sectors of society. Unfortunately, though understandably, it is the issuance of development permits and the related activities which are at the forefront contributing to the public’s perception of Mepa. Lately the matter of public consultation and the extent to which this should be carried out has been an additional issue of contention.
There is but one basic point, simple to point out but too complex for some to comprehend. Mepa’s mission is that of acting on behalf of the whole Maltese community (both present and future generations) in ensuring that development, in its drive to create wealth, conforms to the eco-system of which we form part as well as the social structures in existence from time to time. This is what sustainable development is all about. In carrying out its endeavours, Mepa has no right to discount the future.
This is the measure of Mepa’s failure. It has failed the Maltese community as a whole. Within this context, the suspension by the Prime Minister of the development permit functions at Mepa so soon after resuming office is significant even if for a limited period of two weeks.
There are obviously responsibilities which have to be shouldered and these can be traced to those who opted over the years to channel their allegiance away from the community!
What is the purpose of defining controversial limits of development if these are infringed the moment they are approved? The Local Plans, effective as of August 2006, are controversial enough. Land owners wanted much more; environmentalists much less.
In the past weeks, the audit report on the proposed Lidl supermarket at Safi was published: Development was permitted outside the development zone. The members of the Mepa Development Control Commission resigned on publication of the Mepa audit officer report, which censored them for approving the said application. Will that development permit be repealed?
The Mistra tragedy is still unfolding. At the time of writing one thing is crystal clear: Another development permit, even if only an “outline” one, was issued not only in an area which lies outside the development zone but which is also protected in terms of the EU Habitats Directive, possibly exposing Malta to infringement procedures.
In both cases (Safi and Mistra), the technical personnel at Mepa recommended a refusal of the applications under consideration. Yet, their recommendations were discarded without any valid justification by the DCC.
Now the NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) has revealed that over two thousand five hundred development permits have been issued by Mepa outside the development zone in the past three years. In such a situation do the Local Plans have any further relevance? It is only a question of time when other irregularities will be identified.
Isn’t it logical to conclude that the members of the DCC who have approved these development permits are as a minimum not aware of their responsibilities? Who will assume political responsibility for these appointments and the consequences thereof?
Accountability has to filter down through the ranks but it has to exist at the very top of the pyramid.
Land use planning is a political process. One cannot take politics out of it. The politicians in charge have to assume responsibility for their actions and decisions. Once they have determined the parameters and approved the policies within which the community can be protected, they should refrain from further involvement: Neither directly nor indirectly. Their role is that of policy makers and not of hands-on managers!
Restoring confidence in Mepa is no easy job. In the recent past no effort was spared to undermine it. Through its actions one could clearly deduce that its loyalty was deliberately steered towards the construction industry.
This is the fundamental flaw which needs addressing. Mepa needs to be loyal to the community made up of both present and future generations. In tackling this flaw one very important tool needs to be used: The financing of political parties needs to be tightly regulated.
The author, an architect, is the spokesman on sustainable development of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party in Malta.