Well, we are all saying it. NGOs are pleading for it. A public rally dema-nded it. The Guardian for Future Generations, the Church Commission for the Environment and environmentalists have spoken out to the same end.
Din l-Art Ħelwa has taken the issue to the Parliamentary Committee for Environment and Development Planning.
And now… even the President of the Malta Developers Association is admitting that terrible planning policies have ruined the topography of Malta over the last decade, to quote the media on this sector.
Only better planning by the government can make for better results. On this score we are all in agreement.
So where does good planning start and why indeed have we all had to shout the same message?
Before launching ad hoc development policies as is currently happening, we need a planning master plan to be drawn up methodically as required by law.
Such was the 1992-2012 Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands, now lapsed.
With this government’s hurried pro development stance, the new Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), from which all land use policies originate, becomes even more urgent.
Whether the 1992 plan was good, bad, outdated, ignored or abused it needs to be replaced.
Such a plan gave definition to development policies and afforded a measure of protection to the environment, such as to Out of Development Zones.
This protection has just been annihilated with Mepa’s recent approval of guidelines that justify all sorts of buildings in rural areas. While most regulations attempt to contain urban sprawl, this latest one actually facilitates it.
The SPED that is due is entrenched in Malta’s Environment and Development Planning Act of 2010.
This aims at “protecting the environment and to make provision for the planning of development” through the management of land and sea resources, vital for a small island with a high density of population and ever increasing lifestyle expectations.
It delineates the function of all those entities, including Mepa, whose responsibility is to protect our built and natural heritage, our resources and all that constitutes the environment.
The same Act requires the Government itself to safeguard “the environment and to take preventative and remedial measures to protect it in a sustainable manner for the benefit of today’s and future generations”.
The comparison to this government’s 2013 electoral manifesto is almost uncanny. I quote because repetition helps… sometimes: “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.”
So what has happened to this promise? This government, through its soon to be dismembered Mepa, is drawing up piecemeal policy changes without measuring their full cumulative impact and with no guiding masterplan that is underpinned by studies, research and analysis.
One year into this administration and we have heard little about its environmental vision.
On the contrary, there is a mantra about narrow-minded conservationists who hold back the economy and do not wish our island’s identity to evolve.
Now identity, (and I am not referring to passports), is constantly evolving, and perhaps is never made.
Hence an SPED would determine the direction for the protection of our island’s heritage in which such identity is rooted.
While identity evolves, people remain mostly self-serving.
This means that regulatory authorities working to a national plan are needed and should be the ones responsible in the struggle for environmental preservation.
DLH looks to the authorities to legislate again and fast, and to give us a masterplan that is, and will not be, bent by political dictat.
What is happening may well be the opposite.
New systematic planning by the people for the people in a street by street “ask and you shall receive” fashion is said to provide the model upon which new Local Plans are being revised.
It is a true voters’ paradise. Other proposed policies will permit construction of more petrol stations, higher hotels, fireworks factories, tall buildings, buildings in rural areas, and buildings in the sea, to name a few.
With no SPED in place there is no economic, demographic and social study that looks far beyond the needs of today to explain the need to build more, rather than improve what we have.
SPED rationale should be presented by our planners to the public for comments before going to Parliament for debate and legislation.
Only then can we say we have a strategy that guarantees good and transparent governance of the island’s heritage and environment, and one, hopefully, that is applied with cross-party determination.
Anything else driving planning arises from sheer caprice, promises of quick gain, or insensitivity to Malta’s historic and natural beauty. Without an SPED, Malta may be facing all three.
Simone Mizzi is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.