Mistra : Development Planning Act ignored



published on November 10, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo



A number of correspondents have worked overtime to cloud the issues on the Mistra case.

As a result the focus of the discussion has been the Mepa Audit Officer when it should in reality be whether and to what extent the Development Planning Act permits a resolution of such issues within Mepa itself.

The basic relevant facts of the Mistra case are the following :

1) the Planning Directorate finalised its report (DPAR) recommending the refusal of the Mistra application,

2) those with an interest in having an approval of the application sought the services of the liaison officer, a Mepa employee with specific terms of remit to liaise with the DCC;

3) the liaison officer, instead of applying the procedures established by the Development Planning Act, organised a meeting in which a number of DCC Board members participated;

4) the DCC overturned the decision and approved the issuing of a development permit;

5) the matter was on the eve of a general election made public by the Leader of the Opposition;

6) an investigation was carried out by the Mepa Audit Officer as a result of which the Mepa Board withdrew the permit.

In the discussion as to what went wrong (if at all) during the final stages of the processing of the Mistra application, the correspondents overlooked the fact that the Development Planning Act (DPA) itself provided a clear solution. Article 32A of the DPA (introduced in 2001) provides for the intervention of a planning mediator. An applicant seeking development permission may after the conclusion of the application report by the Director of Planning seek mediation which shall be provided from a panel of planning mediators appointed by the minister responsible for development planning. Obviously the services of a planning mediator will be sought when there is lack of agreement on the contents and/or conclusions of the application report as in the Mistra case.

The planning mediator will after considering the matter express an opinion which is then brought to the attention of the Mepa Board/DCC which is bound to consider it but is not bound by it.

The planning mediators appointed must be qualified in terms of sub-article 32A(2) of the Development Planning Act: they shall be versed in planning or in architecture and civil engineering or in any other discipline relevant to planning. The liaison officer appointed by Mepa is not versed in any of these disciplines. In addition his terms of remit circumvent the provisions of the DPA as they usurp the functions of the planning mediator.

Notwithstanding that eight years have elapsed since Parliament introduced the provision on planning mediation in the DPA, the panel of planning mediators has not to date been appointed. Nor have the relevant regulations on planning mediation been drawn up. Two politicians are directly responsible for this state of affairs: Minister George Pullicino (2001-8) and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi (2008- ).

In view of the above, in my opinion the meetings attended by the DCC members behind closed doors to iron out difficulties arising out of the report prepared by the Director of Planning runs counter to the procedure for the resolution of such difficulties established by the DPA itself.

It is very difficult to understand how it is possible to conclude that everything was done above board when all this was ignored.

But then, in this blessed land everything is possible.

Mr Cacopardo is a spokesman on sustainable development of Alternattiva Demokratika and former investigating officer at the Mepa Audit Office.