The local plans are seven in number. They are supplemented by a land use planning rationalisation exercise. This consists of the identification of land outside the development zone (ODZ), approximately 2 million square metres in area, on the outskirts of existing urban areas and settlements all over the islands. In July 2006, Parliament, decided that this ODZ land was suitable for development.
The PN led government had then proposed and voted in favour of developing this ODZ land with the Labour Opposition voting against the proposal. But come March 2013 nothing changed as a result of the change in government. Notwithstanding that Labour in Opposition had voted against the proposal, the ODZ land remained within the development zone. All two million square metres of it. As aptly underlined by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his Il Gattopardo: the more things appear to change the more they remain the same. Greed is in fact colour blind.
Today, almost 17 years after the event, our local communities are realising what that Parliamentary vote signifies. Together with my colleagues I have been all around the island on a regular basis discussing with residents the resulting overdevelopment which is eating up agricultural land at a fast rate. Most localities are impacted.
This week it is the turn of agricultural land at In-Nigret, on the outskirts of Żurrieq, where more agricultural land will soon be cleared for development. Residents are up in arms as they have realised that another 14,960 square metres of arable agricultural land will be shortly developed. Two particular applications for planning control have been submitted (PC85/18 and PC49/19). The former application has already been approved last year while the second application will be considered shortly: it has already been recommended for approval by the Planning Directorate at the Planning Authority.
The planning process currently in hand is concerned with zoning and with determining the extent of permissible development, that is the permissible height and the development density. The development has however already been approved in principle 17 years ago. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the efforts of my party as well as those of environmental NGOs, residential communities ignored the warning signs staring them in the face. Now that the threat of destructive development is approaching individual communities, they are realising that they have been taken for a ride for quite some time. They are now awakening from their blissful slumber, suddenly realising that those whom they trusted all along have betrayed them by giving up for development the open spaces surrounding our settlements and urban areas.
Giving up agricultural land for building development does not make any sense. This is not just an objective argument in favour of protecting agricultural land. It is also essential to protect the green lungs around our urban areas and settlements.
What sense does it make to embark on a €700 million spending spree on the greening of our urban environment and then, simultaneously to bulldoze through our fertile fields? Project Green, if it is to have any worth should first and foremost seek to protect our existing green lungs. This applies not only to the Nigret fields facing the bulldozer in the coming months. It also applies all around the islands to each and every one of the two million square metres of ODZ land which Parliament, 17 years ago, earmarked for development.
The question being asked is: what can be done about it? Is it not too late to act after 17 years? There are very few avenues which can be explored at this late hour but there are some possibilities which hopefully can be utilised to defend the little we have been left with.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 May 2023