Sustainable Localities & Regionalisation

published on 21 June 2008


by Carmel Cacopardo


To what extent are our localities sustainable ? This issue was brought up in pre-budget public discussions organised by the Ministry of Finance. The idea was floated as to what extent is it desirable to attract business to non-traditional localities in view of the fact that in 2007 six localities (Valletta, Sliema, Birkirkara, Mosta, St Paul’s Bay and Victoria) attracted 30 per cent of the 56,811 enterprise units functioning within these shores.

It was stated that the benefits of spreading the enterprise units (existing and new ones) in non-traditional areas would include the reduction of travelling time between home and work. This may also, however, shift traffic congestion depending on the type of enterprise involved, the resulting intensity of activity and the localities affected. A need for infrastructural improvements could build up in the newly-identified areas relative to road network, supply of water and electrical power as well as waste disposal. Dependent on the type of enterprise attracted, the friction between competing land uses would also be brought closer to a larger number of residences, possibly squeezing out residents in the process.

The discussion as to what makes a locality sustainable is healthy as it focuses on the maxim “think global, act local”, signifying that, while environmental impacts are being felt at a global (or regional) level, they are, however, created at a local level where remedial action should be taken.

Localities in other countries address sustainability at a local level through implementing what is known as Local Agenda 21. As a result of the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 the United Nations approved a document entitled Agenda 21. A Blueprint For Action For Global Sustainable Development Into The 21st Century.

In this document the issues to be addressed in order to assist in the transition from the existing mess to a more sustainable state of affairs are explained in 40 sections, section 28 addressing the role of local authorities. It is stated that “Because so many of the problems and solutions being addressed by Agenda 21 have their roots in local activities, the participation and cooperation of local authorities will be a determining factor in fulfilling its objectives”.

The experience of local authorities in other countries provides many examples. It highlights the difficulty created by size and, consequently, points to the question as to whether in Malta we require another layer of democratic institutions, at regional level, to which a number of responsibilities could be devolved: some currently pertaining to the national government, others to local authorities. This would be in addition to local councils, complementing their functions and, thereby, reinforcing the devolution of public administration.

Regionalisation has already been referred to in the past months as one of the possible solutions to the management of waste on the island.

This argument cropped up when addressing the issue as to whether the Sant’Antnin recycling plant at Marsascala should process all the solid waste generated on the island or whether it should be one of a number still to be determined. Within that context the proposal was made that the management of waste should be regionalised thereby applying the proximity principle to waste management: that is managing the waste generated as close as possible to its source.

Regionalising waste management would create a more visible link between cause and effect, thereby contributing to a more effective management of waste in these islands. The regional authority would assume the role of the operator, with the central government taking on the role of the regulator.

Subsidiarity would also be given a realistic opportunity to succeed as the difficulties encountered by some local councils due to a lack of economies of scale could be effectively tackled in most if not in all cases.

A proposal for the identification of the regions is already indirectly available. This is contained in the seven Mepa Local Plans, namely: the Grand Harbour Region, the Southern Region, the Central Region, the North West Region, the North Harbour Region, the Marsaxlokk Bay Region, Gozo and Comino.

Regional government could devolve responsibility for agriculture, education, land use planning (local plan implementation), projects of a regional importance, the administration of regional sports complexes, regional health centres, inter- and intra-regional transport and social security from national government. Local government could shed responsibility for waste management, the cleaning of non urban areas and the maintenance and management of beaches, which could be a regional responsibility.

The sustainability of our localities is intrinsically linked to their further democratisation. Creating an additional democratic layer and assigning specific responsibilities thereto would help in the amelioration of the running of this country. It would increase accountability as well as ensure more value for the taxpayer’s money.