Times of Malta Editorial – 5 March 2010

Malta’s environment and heritage organisations are mounting a fresh campaign to press for greater protection of the environment. Only days after the new president of the national trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Petra Bianchi, came out deploring the situation generally, eight environment groups announced they will be holding a national rally in Valletta on March 13 to raise the issue of ongoing environmental abuse and lack of law enforcement. And, as it happens, all this coincides, too, with the debate going on in Parliament on the second reading of the Environment and Development Planning Bill, meant, among other aims, to strengthen the environment arm of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

Din l-Art Ħelwa has lost none of the vim and vigour that prompted its promoters to come out in defence of the island’s natural environment and cultural heritage when Malta became independent. It has been of invaluable service to the island, which has, unfortunately, seen so much physical disfigurement over the years. However, despite its contribution (and that of other environmental organisations as well) to efforts towards greater protection, the situation is as yet far from satisfactory, as Dr Bianchi well said when she addressed the annual general meeting. “Our environment is in shambles. The countryside is scarred with development everywhere and enforcement on illegal buildings is wholly inadequate.” Strong words, but her views are definitely shared by all those who have seen the rape of much of the countryside over the years but particularly over the past half century.

The eight environment groups have been equally strong, if not stronger, in their assessment of the situation and are calling on the government to effectively enforce existing laws and put an end to environmental abuse. They have specifically referred to construction encroachment in out-of-development zones; violation of the structure plan and of the EU air pollution directive; illegal hunting and trapping; destruction of heritage and Natura 2000 sites; and unauthorised groundwater extraction.

Taking all this, and much more, together, Dr Bianchi and the other environment groups have good reason to feel so aggrieved by the situation. For years on end, there indeed did not appear to be any hope of seeing any movement towards bringing about a stop to degradation. Development still seems to be going on in an almost uncontrolled manner as one town house after another bites the dust and hideous buildings crop up, scarring the skyline, as that monstrosity of a building just opposite the Santa Marija Addolorata Cemetery has done. Stretches of precious coastline and parts of the countryside have been ruined and, unless stricter controls are introduced, the little that has been left will, one way or another, eventually also be gobbled up.

Yet, not all is lost yet, as, thanks to all the environment groups, there is today much greater national awareness of the need to protect the little natural environment that has remained after the building onslaught of the past years. Hopefully, too, the reform at Mepa will finally stop abuse, insofar as this is humanly possible, and rampant degradation.

Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco has said in Parliament that work had started on the drafting of a national environmental policy. The environment, he said when he introduced the second reading of the Bill, would be given top priority and that Mepa was being given the necessary resources to execute its functions to the full. The environment organisations will, no doubt, be holding him to his word.