The Planning Authority and its “principles”

Searching through the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), the term “principle” is not found in any shape or form. We are slightly luckier if we conduct a similar search in the Development Planning Act (DPA) of 2016: there are three references to principles – guiding principles – which should be observed by the Maltese state in promoting a “comprehensive, sustainable, land use planning system”.

These guiding principles are briefly explained in article 3 of the 2016 DPA. Their objective is to enhance the quality of life for the benefit of present and future generations and is qualified by the standard Brundtland quote from her UN report Our Common Future: ” ………without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That means that sustainability is included in the actual wording of the 2016 DPA. Actually, as we are all aware, this is lip-service in its worst form, because in real life we know full well that Malta’s Planning Authority does not seek the benefit of either the present or future generations.

Article 3 of the 2016 DPA lists various measures which need to be taken. They are specific and range from the need “to preserve, use and develop land and sea for this and future generations”, to ensuring that “planning policies are unambiguous”. Then Article 4 of the 2016 DPA states that we cannot go to a Court of Law to directly enforce the principles announced in the previous article, but, it is underlined that these principles are of a fundamental nature and have to be employed in the interpretation of planning law and policies.

This begs the question as to what extent the Planning Authority, as government’s land use planning agent, observes these basic principles and, in particular, whether the various planning policies in use are actually meant to enhance the quality of life of present and future generations.

There have been various political declarations that land use planning should be more friendly to developers, obviously assisting them to “make hay while the sun shines”. The developers, we are repeatedly told, need to be assured of reasonable expectations, as, poor fellows, they have to earn a living – even if this is at the expense of our quality of life.

As an example, may I ask to what extent is, for example, the Fuel Service Station Policy compatible with the basic principles that the Planning Authority is obliged to apply? In recent weeks I have written extensively about the matter because, to me, it is crystal clear that this Policy is not in any way compatible with the Planning Authority’s basic principles. In neither its present form, nor in the slightly diluted format proposed by the Environment and Resources Authority, does the Fuel Service Stations Policy respect the basic principles enshrined in the 2016 DPA.

The government knows this because, as far back as last September, it announced that “shortly” a public consultation exercise would commence on the manner of implementing a policy to ban cars having an internal combustion engine from being used on our roads.

After almost eight months, this “shortly” to be announced public consultation has still not commenced. The announcement that the public consultation would be announced “shortly” was not made by a new Minister, enthusiastic and overwhelmed by a difficult portfolio; it was made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in one of his Sunday sermons – the one delivered at the Rialto Bormla on 10 September 2017.

If we will not have cars on our roads running on petrol or diesel “shortly” why does the Planning Authority consider it necessary to permit more fuel service stations? It is certainly not in the interest of future generations.

The Planning Authority is entrusted to defend the interests of future generations. In my opinion it has failed in observing its brief as it has lost sight of its basic principles.

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 April 2018

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