11th May 2017
In the light of the imminent elections in Malta on the 3rd June 2017, Din l-Art Helwa would like all political parties to prioritise the environmental future of the country. Whilst politicians and political parties enter and exit the political stage, the loss of heritage or natural environment is permanent.
In the past 4 years Malta has continued to experience the environment being pillaged to accommodate speculators; whilst the political slogan of “Business First”, garnered favour amongst so-called developers and speculators, the results upon our entire country are tangible and devastating.
The Planning Authority is not adequately controlling development while protecting our environment – policy reforms have been introduced which give speculators an almost free hand. The demerger of the environment from planning has weakened the voice of both our environmental and heritage authorities giving them little power to stop development. They have not been given the proper tools to act as guardians of our natural and cultural heritage.
Areas of outstanding natural beauty have been sacrificed to development such as Zonqor Point. We are fighting to retain our historical skylines, in an attempt to persuade the government to refrain from simply pushing forward with tall buildings at any cost.
Din l-Art Helwa urges all political parties to consider the effects of their pledges upon the future of this tiny country where every square mile of land, rural or urban, is of extreme importance to our lives and future generations.
Construction should be channelled into rehabilitation and renewal, which can be advantageous to all while protecting the environment.
Primarily, we again request the study and publication of a detailed National Strategy Plan, which gives a detailed understanding and vision of where Malta should be in 20 and 50 years time.
We call for a renewed overhaul of recent policies and a serious attempt at curbing excessive development, and protecting our urban and natural heritage for this and future generations.
Din l-Art Helwa will be joining the coalition of eNGo’s in putting forward its proposals regarding the environment.
DIN L-ART HELWA RECOMMENDATIONS
The Protection of Valletta and its Skyline
The extraordinary universal value of the city of Valletta and its World Heritage status as a fortified baroque city is under severe threat, in particular from skyscrapers planned too close to its walls, from new additions that mar its historic skyline, and from inappropriate commercial developments that are rapidly destroying the integrity of its architecture and its overall dignity,
A future government is urged to ensure that developers are urgently provided with stringent criteria that will preserve Valletta and its unique characteristics and skyline, also with regard to its buffer zone. Furthermore, we request the research and study of our skylines in order to create appropriate buffer zones around our historical sites, thus curbing applications for tall buildings that may have a negative effect upon our historical skylines.
A Masterplan for High-Rise Buildings
A future government should put permits for high rise developments on hold until a National Masterplan is approved and proper evaluations are carried out of the environmental, social and infrastructural impacts of such buildings. In the absence of a Masterplan, Din l-Art Helwa is especially concerned that no public consultation was carried out on the area of Mriehel when it was designated as a high-rise area and included in the Floor Area Ratio Policy of 2014.
Saving the Countryside
A future government is urged to take firm action to protect the countryside and refrain from allowing it to be used for further development projects as though it has no value. The government must move away from treating the countryside as a cheap resource to be developed. It must understand that it is a valuable and vulnerable resource to be protected from exploitation and speculation. In the last 40 years we have lost much of our countryside to poor development and inappropriate building. The relocation of the petrol stations to Outside Development Zones should be kept to the strict minimum and avoided if possible. Where these are deemed to be absolutely necessary, planning permission should not allow for ancillary services which increase the footprint of the service station. Their design, moreover should be as unobtrusive as possible, harmonising with the surroundings, avoiding large canopies, which create a negative visual impact.
Protecting the countryside seeks to ensure the health and well-being of the nation; to prevent the further loss of natural heritage and biodiversity; to safeguard the important economic role of the countryside; as well as to fulfil Malta’s legal obligations under both national and European legislation. A public survey carried out in 2015 showed that 97% of the Maltese population believes that the countryside needs to be protected more. The current Rural Policy Guidelines 2014 will need to be revised to reflect a better policy framework for the rural environment.
Designation and Management of Nature Parks
A future government is urged to designate and extend territory for nature parks in Malta, and that a holistic management programme, backed by appropriate stringent legislation, resources, education and enforcement measures be established to effectively protect Malta’s remaining natural areas. Protected areas have been designated, (mostly Natura 2000 sites) yet many are still unmanaged and subject to serious development pressures. A public survey carried out in 2015 showed that 88% of the population believe that Malta should have more protected nature sites.
The Protection of Vernacular Architecture
A future government is urged to take steps to protect Urban Conservation Areas and historic buildings by ensuring that protection is extended also to simple vernacular old buildings which constitute the urban fabric of all Malta’s historical villages and towns. Over the past year numerous development applications were approved allowing the destruction of such buildings, described as ‘dilapidated’. The current policy and interpretation of the Policy and Design Guidelines needs further clarification to ensure that all historic buildings including simple vernacular architecture are protected from demolition; this should also include a detailed study on Sliema and St Julians where the situation is nearly one of complete destruction of the little heritage which remains. The destruction of simple vernacular buildings depletes our heritage.
A future government should make every effort to protect Gozo’s unique rural character and safeguard its rich ecology and natural beauty. Measures to minimize the negative effects of development should be taken, including the reduction of light pollution, and the prevention of all disturbance to natural land. The term utilised for Gozo as Eco-Gozo needs a solid vision and framework to be made into a reality. Projects for building in coastline areas such as Ta’ Cenc or other areas of natural beauty should be abhorred. Tall buildings in Gozo, as per current policy, should not be allowed and the current permit for a tall building in Marsalforn should be seriously questioned.
Protection of coastline
A future government should ensure that policies protect the foreshore from development, and does its utmost to ensure such development does not destroy the last unbuilt areas of coast. Further construction activity for the building of lidos, hotels, eating spaces and land reclamation schemes, proposed very close to the seashore will interfere with the public enjoyment of Malta’s coastal areas, and will damage our rich marine biodiversity. Illegal or abandoned buildings should be removed and the natural environment left to regenerate as much as possible. Furthermore, the current policy for land reclamation should be seriously addressed to ensure that the coastline and marine life is protected.
Improved urban management
In order to enhance the quality of our visual environment and improve the shabbiness that is now characteristic of many of our towns and villages, a future government, the planning and environmental authorities and associated ministries should collaborate and empower Local Councils to put into place rigorous measures which force owners of properties to carry out regular maintenance on the facades of buildings. Owners of real estate should be given a determined time in which to finish construction projects with taxes or fines imposed upon those who leave developments unfinished to the detriment of our visual amenities.
Illegal Occupation of Public Land
A future government empowered by the Public Domain Bill should take immediate steps to remove those persons who are already illegally occupying public land and buildings, and to return such land and buildings to the community in order to enable all members of society rightfully to enjoy their own common patrimony.