Pjani Lokali tal-lastku

Meta l-Pjani Lokali kienu approvati, kien l-ewwel darba li f’Malta sar attentat biex ikun regolat l-iżvilupp fuq livell lokali bis-serjetà. Il-ħtieġa kienet ilha tinħass is-snin. L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod professjonali, f’Malta, beda fl-1989 bil-proċess iwassal għall-ħolqien tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Għall-bidu, kif jispjega b’mod ċar fil-pjan ta’ struttura, kien ippjanat li jkun hemm 24 pjan lokali għall-Malta u Għawdex, imma imbagħad spiċċajna b’sebgħa. Ħames Pjani Lokali kienu approvati fl-2006, bit-tnejn l-oħra jkunu approvati iktar kmieni: dak dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk fl-1995 u dak dwar il-Port il-Kbir fl-2002.

Meta l-pjani lokali kienu mfassla, oriġinalment għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, kienu meqjusa bħala restrittivi għax ftit kienu jħallu lok għal diskrezzjoni. Sa dakinnhar ħadd ma kien għadu fassal il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art b’mod hekk ċar, b’mod li jnaqqas il-lok għall-abbuż kif ukoll il-poter assolut vestit f’persuna waħda:il-politku. Dakinnhar kien hemm resistenza konsiderevoli li l-affarijiet isiru b’dan il-mod. Dan jispjega għaliex dawn il-pjani lokali damu ħafna ma saru. Hija ukoll ir-raġuni li wasslet għal dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bħala riżultat tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art, madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru, fil-parti l-kbira art agrikola, fl-2006, kienu ddikjarati mill-Parlament bħala li tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Il-pjani lokali huma essenzjalment dokumenti miktuba li fihom hemm spjegata l-politika lokali dwar l-użu tal-art flimkien ma mapep li jillustraw din il-politika. Tul is-snin dawn il-pjani lokali ġew ikkumplimentati b’dokumenti oħra dwar materji speċifiċi. Kważi kollha b’ċertu ammont ta’ kontroversja marbuta magħhom. Dwar dawn ktibt diversi drabi f’dawn il-paġni.

F’Jannar 2013, wara perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni kif trid il-liġi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kellha f’idejha dokument ieħor li kien approvat: nirreferu għalih bħala l-politka tal-flessibilità. Huwa intitolat : Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. L-iżviluppaturi (u l-periti tagħhom) flimkien mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinterpretaw dan id-dokument bħala li jagħtihom mano libera biex jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk il-partijiet tal-Pjani Lokali li għandhom jinjoraw.
Sfortunatament uffiċjali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, spiss wisq, jaġixxu qieshom għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk ir-regoli tal-ippjanar li għandhom japplikaw u liema huma dawk li għandhom jinjoraw.

Kaz speċifiku qam quddiem il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa dwar żvilupp propost fuq biċċa art kbira fil-Mellieħa. Il-Pjan Lokali tal-Majjistral jipprovdi li ma jistgħux jinbnew lukandi fiż-żona residenzjali fejn hemm din l-art. Imma l-uffiċjali tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar, friski daqs ħassa, jirreferu għall-politika dwar il-flessibilità bl-addoċċ u jirrakkomandaw li l-lukanda proposta hi aċċettabbli. .

L-applikazzjoni tal-politika dwar il-flessibilità fl-ippjanar hi limitata mill-kundizzjonijiet fid-dokument imsemmi iktar il-fuq. Il-limitazzjoni prinċipali hi li l-flessibilità ma tistax tmur kontra l-linja ġenerali stabilita fil-Pjani Lokali. Għax il-politika dwar l-ippjanar għandha tkun flessibli imma mhux tkun tal-lastku!

Numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet li ħadet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ibbażati fuq din l-interpretazzjoni skorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità kienu kkontestati fit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar u fil-Qrati u kienu mħassra. Fid-dawl ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, jiena ma nistax nifhem kif l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tikkoreġix il-posizzjoni tagħha.

Inizzjalment l-applikazzjoni inkorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art setgħet titqies bħala żball. Imma meta dan l-iżball jibqa’ jkun repetut ma jibqax żball iżda jsir abbuż ta’ poter li għandu jkun indirizzat immedjatament.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Marzu 2019

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The elasticity of the Local Plans

The Local Plans currently in force, when they were approved, were a first serious attempt in these islands to regulate development at a local level. The need had been felt for far too long. Professional land use planning in Malta started in earnest in 1989 with the process leading to the setting up of the Planning Authority.

Originally, as clearly explained in the Structure Plan, it was planned to have 24 local plans for the Maltese Islands, but we ended up with just seven. Five local plans were approved in 2006, with the other two having been approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan in 1995 and the Grand Harbour Local Plan in 2002.

When the local plans were originally drafted for public consultation they were considered as highly restrictive. It was then unheard of to clearly define policy, reducing loopholes and absolute power vested in one person, the politician. There was then considerable resistance to such a course of action. This is the major reason for the long gestation period of these plans. It is also the reason which led to what is known as the rationalisation exercise as a result of which large stretches of land, around two million square metres, mostly agricultural land, was in 2006 declared by Parliament as suitable for development.

Local plans are essentially written statements containing local land use policies and policy maps illustrating the said policies. Over the years the local plans have been buttressed by supplementary guidance with specific policy documents containing a varying degree of controversy, about which I have written extensively in these columns over the years.

In January 2013, after the statutory consultation period, planning policy acquired an additional document, commonly referred to as the flexibility policy. It is entitled: Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. Developers (and their architects) as well as the Planning Authority tend to interpret this policy document as giving them a free hand in determining the extent to which they may depart from provisions of the Local Plans.

Unfortunately, Planning Authority officials tend to assume too often that they have some God-given right to decide which planning policies to apply and which to ignore.

A specific case came before the Planning Authority Board earlier this week relative to a large site in Mellieħa. The North West Local Plan provides that no new hotels can be developed in the residential area of which this site forms part. Yet, invoking the above-quoted flexibility policy officials at the Planning Directorate did not bat an eyelid and recommended that the proposed hotel was acceptable development.

Application of the planning flexibility policy is limited by the conditions set out in the policy, primarily that the general thrust or direction given by specific policies in the Local Plan is not to be superseded. Planning policy may be flexible but it should certainly not be elastic!

A number of decisions taken by the Planning Authority based on such an incorrect interpretation of the flexibility policy have been contested in the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal as well as in Court and were reversed. Faced with such decisions I fail to understand why the Planning Authority does not correct its ways.

Initially the incorrect application of the planning flexibility policy could have been considered as a case of wrongful interpretation of policy. Repetition can only be construed as an abuse of authority and should be dealt with accordingly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 March 2019

Il-MEPA u l-pompa tal-petrol proposta għall-Magħtab

Maghtab PS

Il-bieraħ quddiem il-Bord tal-MEPA bdiet tiġi diskussa l-applikazzjoni dwar il-pompa tal-petrol fil-Magħtab. Id-diskussjoni kella issir xi ġimgħat ilu, imma kienet posposta minħabba proċeduri fil-Qorti mir-residenti għax ir-rapport li kien ikkonkluda sa dakinnhar id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar kien qed jinjora l-fatt li l-Pjan Lokali kellu policy li ż-żona fejn kienet proposta l-pompa tal-petrol kien jirriżervaha bħala Category 2 Rural Settlement.

Meta  bdiet id-diskussjoni ma saret l-ebda referenza għal din l-istess policy mill-esperti u professuri li ppreżentaw power points elaborati f’isem l-iżviluppatur u f’isem il-MEPA. Kien hemm minnhom min qalilna biss li l-policy ma tapplikax u waqaf hemm. Ħadd ma indenja ruħu jispjega għaliex.

Iffaċċjati b’dan jiena flimkien mal-persuni l-oħra li f’isem ir-residenti konna qed nippreżentaw il-każ kontra l-proposta ta’ żvilupp tal-pompa spjegajna għaliex il-policy fil-Pjan Lokali kellha tiġi applikata.

Jiena spjegajt għaliex skond il-Pjan Lokali l-permess għall-pompa tal-petrol ma setax joħroġ. Ha nikkwota dak li irrapporta Kevin Schembri Orland fl-Independent :

“He delivered a brief presentation against the project. “The central issue, which seems to have been missing from most presentations given, is that the site forms part of Rural settlement Category 2 (Policy CG04 in the Central Malta Local Plan). If some basic research was conducted, one would see that wall to wall with the site, there is an application refused as it forms part of Rural Settlement Category 2, and this was also confirmed in the appeal of that case. “This is basic information which you must take into consideration”. “Looking at CG04, it specifies what can be built in a rural settlement, and a petrol station is not one of the developments allowed under this policy” Cacopardo read from MEPA policy and said that the aim of this designation as a Category 2 Rural Settlement is to prevent further development of incompatible uses in the area, due to the disorganized state of the settlement. He said that since this is part of a rural settlement, this Board has its hands tied and cannot allow another use that conflicts with policy CGO4.”

Wara li konna spiċċajna nippreżentaw il-każ f’isem ir-residenti, l-esperti li kien hemm bdew iwieġbu xi punti. L-Independent jirrapporta hekk dwar dak li ġara :

“Mr Cacopardo, as well as residents in the area, had been arguing that a particular policy was not taken into consideration. After residents made these arguments, the representative of the Planning Directorate argued that it was considered, and began making his arguments. At this point, Carmel Cacopardo stood up asked why none of these reasons were included in the DPAR report and accused him of professional disloyalty for not including these arguments in their documents.”

Id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar  għandu l-obbligu li jispjega b’mod ċar u eżatt il-posizzjoni dwar kull applikazzjoni li tkun qed tiġi ikkunsidrata. Irrispettivament xi tkun l-opinjoni professjonali tal-uffiċjali tad-Direttorat għandhom l-obbligu li ma joqgħodux iduru mal-lewża jew li jevitaw xi argument. Imma sfortunatament spiss qed jagħmlu dan.  Għalhekk għidt li dan kien każ ta’ slealta.

Il-MEPA permezz tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar għandha l-obbligu li tiskuża ruħha mar-residenti tal-Magħtab.

 

€miljun għal Birżebbuġa

marco polo

Id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar tal-MEPA għadu kif ikkonkluda r-rapport dwar l-applikazzjoni tal-management tal-Port Ħieles biex jinġiebu krejnijiet ġodda. Dawn il-krejnijiet fil-fatt waslu l-bieraħ.

Dan ir-rapport jikkonferma li l-MEPA, wara li rċiviet diversi oġġezzjonijiet, kemm mill-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa kif ukoll mir-residenti, insistiet li jinbidlu l-pjanti u jitneħħew il-krejniet mill-parti tal-Port Ħieles li hi l-iktar viċin taż-żona residenzjali. Dan hu pass il-quddiem. Għax ir-residenti huma bir-raġun mxebbgħin bl-impatti tal-Port Ħieles fuq il-ħajja tagħhom, anke jekk tul dawn l-aħħar ħames snin ittieħdu passi biex dan ikun indirizzat.

Id-Direttorat tal-Ippanar qed jirrakkomanda ukoll li minħabba l-impatti tal-Port Ħieles fuq Birżebbuġa, jsir ħlas mill-Port Ħieles ta’ €955,000 biex jintużaw fuq xogħolijiet f’Birżebbuġa. Eżatt liema ser ikunu dawn ix-xogħolijiet għadu mhux ċar imma dawn affarijiet li jiġu ċċarati matul il-ġranet u l-ġimgħat li ġejjin bejn il-MEPA u l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa.

Fil-waqt li din hi aħbar tajba għal Birżebbuġa tajjeb li niftakru li sitt snin ilu, fl-2009, il-MEPA kienet ukoll ħadet deċiżjoni simili. L-ammont dakinnhar kien ta’ €741,820. Imma dakinnhar il-Port Ħieles kien appella minn dik id-deċiżjoni u l-Kabinett ta’ Lawrence Gonzi kien żamm mal-Port Ħieles u lill-Birżebbuġa ċaħħada minn dawn il-flus u Birżebbuġa tħalliet tittewweb .

Wara l-esperjenza qarsa ta’ sitt snin ilu nistennew u naraw kif ser jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet.

The elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

 

When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015

Il-MEPA u l-froġa tal-Mistra Village

froga

Il-Kummissarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar David Pace f’rapport li ġie ippubblikat il-bierah it-Tnejn 2 ta’ Diċembru 2013 fi ftit kliem jgħid li l-permessi għall-iżvilupp mill-ġdid tal-Mistra Village huma froġa oħra tal-MEPA. Dan jagħmlu wara li mexxa investigazzjoni fuq talba ta’ Din l-Art Ħelwa.

Il-frejjeġ fil-MEPA li kienu jsiru taħt Lawrence Gonzi, George Pullicino u Mario Demarco għadhom qed isiru taħt Joseph Muscat u Michael Farrugia.

Hu ġustifikat, jgħidilna l-Kummissarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar, li l-permessi għall-iżvilupp tal-Mistra Village jkunu irtirati.

Ir-rapport li tistgħu taqrawh fuq is-sit elettroniku ta’ Din l-Art Ħelwa jagħti raġunijiet dettaljati biex jispjega għaliex il-Kummissarju David Pace wasal għal din il-konklużjoni. Ir-rapport jispjega xi tħalla barra fil-konsiderazzjonijiet li għamel id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar u jgħid li l-Bord tal-MEPA kien iggwidat ħażin mill-Major Projects Unit tal-istess MEPA. Il-Bord tal-MEPA ngħata informazzjoni nieqsa u informazzjoni żbaljata.

F’pajjiż ċivilizzat il-Bord tal-MEPA kien jirreżenja en bloc wara deċiżjoni bħal din.

Darba waħda hekk kien sar meta l-Perit Joseph Falzon kien ħareġ rapport dwar il-permess abbużiv tal-LIDL ta’ Ħal-Safi fuq talba għal investigazzjoni li dakinnhar kienet saret minn Alternattiva Demokratika . Dakinnhar 6 minn 7 membri tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp li approvat il-permess kienu irriżenjaw lejlet l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2008.

Ma nafx kemm il-wieħed jew waħda mill-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA għandhom il-kuraġġ li jammettu li għamlu żball u li għandhom iħallsu tiegħu billi jirreżenjaw.

Nistennew u naraw.

AD comments on the Dwejra report of the MEPA Audit Officer

AD has published the report which the MEPA Audit Officer finalised after an AD request for an investigation of MEPA’s processing of the application relative to the Dwejra protected site.

Carmel Cacopardo AD Spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government stated that the report shows once more that the Environment Protection Directorate has been set aside and practically ignored in the whole process. The fact that the application was processed by the Planning Directorate with minor and informal roles for the Environment Protection Directorate demonstrates how the environment role of MEPA has been reduced  to one of mere decoration.

Carmel Cacopardo added that it is worrying that the MEPA Audit Officer has concluded that the Environment Protection Directorate has abdicated its responsibilities to the Planning Directorate. This is the logical consequence of years of ignoring by MEPA of its environmental responsibilities. This is also reflected in the report’s conclusion that the Environment Protection Directorate has failed to screen the application to establish the impact of the proposed activity and this in direct contrast to the guidelines issued by the EU on the implementation of the Habitats Directive transposed onto the Maltese statute book as per Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

AD’s chairperson, Michael Briguglio added  that the report concluded that MEPA was aware at least since the 14th October 2010 that the applicant was not observing the conditions which it had established yet it remained static and apprehensive as it wanted to avoid litigation and action for damages for possible disruption of filming activities. This is grossly irresponsible and AD expects an explanation from the MEPA CEO who needs to also explain why no monitoring was carried out when the permit clearly explained that this was to be carried out at the applicant’s expense. The substantial sums of money being paid by the taxpayer to finance MEPA  are not resulting in responsible management added Michael Briguglio.

Finally AD insists that Mr Austin Walker as one of the most paid CEOs in the public sector does not only owe the public an explanation but he must also shoulder responsibility for MEPA’s inability to react.

MEPA Audit Office Dwejra Report

AD asks MEPA Audit Officer to investigate Dwejra mauling

Following a request by AD MEPA has released a copy of the consent conditions for the use of Dwejra and other sites  in connection with “The Game of Thrones” teleserial shootout. AD is releasing the a copy of the Consent Conditions.

In the meantime Carmel Cacopardo AD spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government has written to the MEPA Audit Officer requesting that he investigates the whole matter.

In the written request Cacopardo on behalf of AD has stated that :
“It is inconceivable how MEPA could have issued any kind of permit for activities at Dwejra in view of the strict rules imposed by the  EU Habitats Directive which has been transposed into Maltese legislation.

In my opinion the Environment Protection Directorate of MEPA as the Competent Authority in terms of the Habitats Directive has permitted activities which it is duty bound to prevent from happening.

You are kindly requested to investigate the manner in which MEPA has handled this incident through both the actions and inactions of the Planning Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate in MEPA.”Consent Conditions