David Agius’s mental gymnastics


David was always into sport – primarily basketball, if I remember correctly. He has, however, now dedicated considerable time to the practice of mental gymnastics.

In Attard, in the area known as Tal-Idward – which is just outside the development zone – David has time and again publicly manifested his support of the residents’ cause: opposition to the development of agricultural land. The residents have now vented their anger in a pubic protest against a second planning control application that seeks to identify what would be permissible development in the tal-Idward area at Attard, the first application having been turned down around three years ago.

David Agius, the Opposition Whip, stood there, with a poker face, not batting an eyelid. Eleven years ago, in Parliament, he voted in favour of permitting the same development against which he is now demonstrating!

The issue is the so-called “rationalisation exercise” as a result of which considerable tracts of ODZ land all over the Maltese islands will henceforth to be considered as developable land. In 2006, with his favourable vote in Parliament, David Agius, contributed to making this possible. On the Opposition benches, he is accompanied by a number of other MPs who likewise voted in favour of more virgin agricultural land being given up for development.

Land-use planning should keep in mind the interests of the whole community and not only the interests of a select few. Unfortunately, eleven years down the line, it is now more clear than ever that the rationalisation exercise has  completely ignored the interests of the residential communities all over the islands in order to satisfy the greed of land speculators.

When Parliament considered the approval of removing ODZ status of large tracts of land, primarily (but not exclusively) agricultural land, it did so in full knowledge of the fact that the cumulative impacts of such a decision had not been assessed. Such an assessment, which is prescribed in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU, would have been mandatory had Parliament’s decision been taken some days later than it actually was.

As a result, traffic impacts, air quality, flooding, the shadowing of existing residential property equipped with photo-voltaic panels and the issue of an ever increasing stock of vacant properties were completely ignored when Parliament approved the rationalisation exercise.

The Planning Authority, unfortunately, notwithstanding that it is aware of the shortcomings underpinning the rationalisation exercise, has failed to take steps to mitigate these shortcomings apart from minor cosmetic changes to the  proposals submitted on behalf of speculators.

In Parliament Minister Ian Borg rightly pointed his fingers at the Opposition when replying to criticism of the above-mentioned Planning Authority’s decision.  Blaming the Opposition is however not enough as the Labour Party had sufficient time to act on the matter in the past four years, but has not done so. Most of us remember that the Labour Party itself, when in Opposition, had voted against the rationalisation exercise in Parliament. This leads to the inevitable question as to whether or not Labour has since changed its mind as – with the exception of a few sympathetic comments on the eve of the June general election – it has never committed itself to changes to the rationalisation exercise. Are we to interpret the Labour Party’s non-action as a change of political position, signifying agreement with the rationalisation exercise in the form approved by Parliament in 2006?

As far as I am aware, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party, is the only political party to propose a specific measure on changes to the rationalisation exercise. This was done once more during the recent electoral campaign. Such a measure proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika is linked to the large number of vacant properties, which should be a break applied by land-use planning regulators in order not to develop more land unnecessarily.

But is seems that the Labour Party and the PN have switched roles. Hence David’s mental gymnastics: supporting speculators when in government, supporting residents when in opposition.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 July 2017