The Interdiocesan Commission for the Environment calls on the authorities to provide the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) with a veto on development applications and planning policies that have a significant bearing on the quality of life.

The Commission believes this veto power also be extended to the proposed Authority responsible for Agricultural Land in matters relating to agricultural land. 

In a statement to mark World Town Planning Day 2022, the Commission said while it welcomes the new draft National Strategy for the Environment 2050 and the White Paper on Agricultural Reform, the success of these initiatives is highly dependent on a supportive land use planning framework.

The Commission said: “The planning system practised under the Development Planning Act and other practices that have no legal basis at law (including the concept of precedent used to approve certain development applications) is working against some of the strategic objectives of the draft NSE 2050 and the aims of the White Paper on Agricultural Reform.

“One should not be surprised that agricultural land is being lost and that the natural environment is being urbanised. The Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2014 has been contributing to such loss.

“Following a public consultation that ended in August 2020, that is more than two years ago, the policy has not yet been reviewed. No action has yet been taken to amend the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015, which is the main cause of devastation of Gozo’s ridges with the consequent accelerated loss of Gozo’s unique landscape.

“If the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Environment Protection Act, together with the proposed Authority responsible for agricultural land, are to play a distant second fiddle to the Development Planning Act and its decision-making processes then we would as a nation be betraying the country as well as current and future generations. The planning system, due to the way it has developed over the last years, needs more effective checks and balances for it to really serve the common good.”

The Commission invites the Government and the Standing Committee on the Environment, Climate Change and Development Planning to take decisive action now to stop the urban and natural environment from continuing to be irreparably damaged.

“Such damage is being inflicted by misguided development plans and planning policies and decision-making processes based on concepts anathema to planning that have been introduced informally over the years by decision makers,” the Commission said.