Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia has announced that MEPA will be launching the process which ought to lead to a revision of all seven Local Plans.
The Environment and Development Planning Act 2010 provides for such a revision which in the view of many is long overdue. The difference of opinion will arise when the nature of the revisions to be put in place are announced.
It is obvious that the proposals for revision will result from the process of consultation just launched. But it is also pretty obvious that the direction which government would like such revisions to take is one which encourages the construction industry. This is where we part company.
Any environmentalist worth his salt is aware that the unbridled development encouraged during the past years has resulted in a large stock of vacant residential properties. It is estimated that this is well in excess of 70,000 and still rising, even though at a reduced rate.
This glut of vacant residential properties should be the primary motivation directing those seeking the way forward for the seven Local Plans.
It is in view of Malta’s small size that as a Nation we cannot afford to take up more land for building development. We should rather seek to maximize the use of the building stock already in hand. This signifies that revised Local Plans should restrict additional development of virgin land. This can be done by reversing the rationalisation exercise carried out in 2006, by declaring a moratorium on large scale residential development and by reducing permissible heights to what they were in 2006.
The revised Local Plans should focus on the utilisiation of the existing building stock, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and redevelopment where necessary.
The revised Local Plans must also protect solar rights. This aim can be achieved through discarding the increased permissible building heights introduced in 2006 as well as by subjecting the possible development of penthouses to the solar rights of residents in the same residential block.
Reducing the potential for development means that the building construction industry would reduce its activity to a sustainable level. It will require help to pursue such a road. This would be the first step which should not be postponed. The revision of the Local Plans is the optimum time for such a step: to commence the restructuring of the building industry.