The Environment Minister has stated his intent that there should be a true environment watchdog when we have a Malta Environment and Planning Authority with a mission statement that dictates it does just that.
He stresses the need to heed NGOs as they ‘are the conscience of the environment’, when we have a Minister for the Environment elected to be just that.
While this new watchdog waits to materialise from the political demerger of Mepa, the lapdogs the Environment Minister does not wish to nurture, exist, and are set to allow Malta to burn.
During the transition period between one watchdog and another, it is only NGOs who are demanding protection of our environment from the negative impacts of Government’s new planning policies. These are conveniently being rushed through in great number, with unprofessional and irresponsible haste by our planning authority acting at the request of government, with no social or environmental studies, and with no justification at all except for an electoral mandate mantra of dubious morality that can allow anything to be enacted even if not for the common good.
The spirit of the current structure plan, still a legally binding document, has been completely bypassed. This is ‘to use land and buildings efficiently and consequently to channel urban development activity into existing built up areas particularly through rehabilitation of urban areas thus constraining further inroads into undeveloped land’.
The introduction of numerous planning laws, from that permitting tall buildings, ad hoc hotel heights, rural area development, petrol stations, fireworks factories, the redevelopment of Marsaxlokk, just to name a few are all to happen simultaneously with no studies or statistics to explain why they are necessary. Not to mention the mysterious land reclamation schemes upon which silence reigns. With some 70,000 under utilised buildings, including thousands of commercial properties that line our streetscapes, unkempt and unfinished, now we are set to get more.
Daily the public grows more concerned about our countryside, our coast, our right to open spaces, to light and to fresh clean air. Daily we speak out on the importance to retain our historic and natural qualities which give Malta its identity. Daily, however, it becomes more evident that this government has no environmental conscience at all.
Government, I quote words from your 2013 Electoral manifesto which ring a hollow promise. “Malta should be in the vanguard on environmental standards, not because there is an obligation placed upon us by European directives but because this is what best suits our children and generations to come’.
Din l-Art Helwa together with eleven other NGOs, youth organizations, several resident associations and numerous members of the public caring for our environment are to raise their voices on Saturday 30 November to ask you, our Government, to act responsibly according to your electoral promise.
As Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa, I ask you to restrain the haste with which these planning regulations are to be passed, to explain the need for more building with proper studies and to allow the public to share in your vision for a Malta that emulates Dubai or Singapore.
With other NGOs we will demand that Government refrains from promoting laws that are to change Malta’s landscape forever. I will go one further. I would state that no matter how great the electoral mandate given to you in March 2013, and no matter how much of a boost the building industry needs, it gives no government the right to deface our natural and cultural heritage in a permanent manner.
Politicians take note: these are not mere commodities for your exploitation, nor yours to hand to speculators for a quick return. Malta’s unique landscape of world heritage walled cities, low lying contours and ancient skyline punctuated by our baroque church domes, belongs to those who follow us. You have no right to make the island one entire building zone unless you prove it is necessary and you prepare precautionary measures of protection. So far you have not.
Yours is a vision that works only for short term gain and will benefit but a few. We ask that Government acts as a good pater familias. Tell us how you justify the sustainability of yet more construction when we have not yet balanced the results of the 2006 revision of plans, with their disruption, dust, noise, health problems and glut of unused properties.
We ask that you live up to your environmental promise and shoulder your responsibility to protect the environment. Drop this irresponsible haste. On Saturday 30 November, starting at 1030 a.m at City Gate, Valletta, together with those of us attending the Protest March in favour of the Environment, we will ensure you hear the soul of the caring public. We hope you have the soul to listen.
Simone Mizzi is Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa