Should we be surprised at the Maltese Islands’ degradation of the natural and urban environment? The plain answer is ‘no’. Everybody has a part to play to safeguard our national heritage. However, the responsibility falls primarily on Government which is ultimately the overarching driver and decision-maker in all policy-making. The following is a summary of the recommendations and observations that the Interdiocesan Environment Commission (KA) made as part of the public consultation for the 2022 Budget to address the ‘uglification’ of the country that the Pre-Budget Consultation Document 2022 refers to.
- Publish the revised Rural Policy and Design Guidance 2014 which has allowed the sprouting of villas and swimming pools in place of mounds of rubble in the countryside. One hopes that the revised policy protects the Maltese countryside and genuine farming needs. Green planning cannot come before planning for and effectively protecting green spaces that is the unspoilt countryside that the country still enjoys.
- Protect farmers’ livelihoods and encourage young people to be farming entrepreneurs by granting Maltese agricultural land a special protection status as a strategic resource. The KA fully shares the concerns of farmers in Malta who are being evicted, following a recent Court decision, from the land that they have tilled for generations. The country just cannot afford to abandon more agricultural land than it has already lost to building development over the last decades.
- Ensure that the country benefits from rigorous, unequivocal, loop-hole free development plans, planning and environment policies and their enforcement. Review the local plans in their entirety and not continue changing them in a piecemeal fashion. Revise the Development Notification Order (DNO) which is a legislative instrument that has become an abusive vehicle through which Government entities avoid going through a full development process.
- Protect Gozo’s ridges through the review of the Development Control and Design Guidance Policy. This policy, following its revision in 2015, is again disfiguring ridges through multi-storey buildings that destroy maquis and the age-old contour of Gozo’s hills as had happened in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Make transparency a major pillar in the justification of policy changes. The resounding absence of published monitoring data when a policy is being reviewed is conducive to stakeholders believing that the outcome of the process is already pre-determined.
- Restore the core function of planning to the Planning Authority. The authorities chose to issue and award a services tender for the provision of Consultancy Services for the Preparation of Demography, Employment and Housing Studies for the review of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED). Why has the PA reached the stage where it is not able to carry out studies that are at the heart of its raison d’être?
- Carry out a truly national study on the demand and supply of Maltese property to inform the planning function. For the last six years, the KA has been insisting with the authorities on the need for such a study.
- Put a stop to Government concessions for tourism purposes being changed to enable the sale of property for residential purposes. Concessions of public land that were originally granted for tourism projects especially in scenic and protected areas cannot have their uses changed to residential ones (such as those at Ħal Ferħ and Comino). Such land had originally been sacrificed to sustain a thriving tourism industry. So its use should be safeguarded for such a purpose.
- Options to improve connectivity between Malta and Gozo in lieu of a Malta-Gozo tunnel need to be implemented and allowed to be experienced by users before decisions continue to be taken on such a tunnel. The KA notes that while Government has announced that the studies on the metro system will be published, the full studies that have been promised with respect to the Malta-Gozo tunnel for a number of years have not yet been published. Are there going to be different levels of transparency for the Malta-Gozo tunnel and the metro system?
- Carrying capacity for certain activities. As the Marsascala marina project has shown, politicians cannot promise everything to everybody even though this is the standard practice when general elections are approaching. A stage will be reached where we will have to accept that the country just cannot afford to provide more berthing areas for boats. Dismissing and playing down public outcry over projects by government officials is a symptom of arrogance and disrespect for the common good of the public that such officials had sworn to serve.
- Data should not be misused to justify certain infrastructural projects. Although the Rabat-Marsalforn road in Gozo is in urgent need of upgrading, traffic data from the peak period of Santa Marija in August cannot be used to justify a so-called upgrading that takes up ODZ land unnecessarily.
- As part of climate change mitigation measures, the KA supports any extraordinary measure to store drinking water to be used in case of drought and providing water storage in or close to woodlands to be used in case of fires. Moreover, incentives for the retrofitting of buildings and sensitive redevelopment of existing buildings will create the required opportunities for the construction industry that needs to shift its business model from the one that it has been used to for a long time.
- Incentivise teleworking. Teleworking, apart from providing in many cases a healthy work-life balance, can result in less office space required resulting in decreased pressure on land-use.
In conclusion, the Environment Commission urges everybody to do some soul-searching on whether our actions or lack of them are contributing to safeguard the natural and urban environment of the Maltese Islands and to improve the quality of life of the people.
Click here to read the full recommendations by the Environment Commission.