Press Release 7th August, 2015
MEPA Demerger weakens environmental governance: Front Harsien ODZ
In a press conference held in front of the Office of the Prime Minister, Front Harsien ODZ presented its feedback regarding Government’s demerger of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
Front Harsien ODZ is opposing the proposed MEPA demerger as this will weaken environmental governance. The proposed legislation makes it easier to develop on ODZ land, weakens enforcement, weakens transparency and weakens civil society participation in decision-making processes.
Government’s demerger of MEPA will also give too much power to the respective Minister, who can override Planning Authority decisions. This will further decrease the Authority’s autonomy and further increase political interference in decision-making which is supposed to be bound by clear regulations.
Front Harsien ODZ also expressed its endorsement of Din l-Art Helwa’s and Friends of the Earth’s statements regarding the MEPA demerger.
Front’s feedback, in more detail, follows:
1.The law as proposed makes it possible for MEPA to regularise illegal development in protected zones and ODZ land, something forbidden by a specific article in present law (Article 70 and the Sixth Schedule). Currently MEPA cannot approve the legalisation of ODZ development carried out after 2008 and of any development carried out on scheduled zones irrespective of when it was carried out.
2. The law gives too many powers to the Minister and states that “any person who is served with an enforcement notice” in respect of development which may be regularised “by virtue of regulations made by the Minister”, shall have the right to request the new Planning Authority (PA) to regularise the development. This can pave the way to a planning amnesty through a legal notice. This is because the new law will give the minister responsible for the PA blanket powers to define both the illegalities which can be sanctioned, and the fines which would be applicable. This will be done through a legal notice issued by the Minister.
3. The law weakens enforcement. This is because the proposed law states that whenever an application for regularising past abuse is turned down, enforcement provisions will only apply from the date such from when such a request is turned down. Fines should apply from the moment an enforcement order is issued as is the case today.
4. The law weakens transparency by allowing people to make submissions anonymously. This means that developers will be able to propose changes to local plans etc.. without showing their names.
5. The proposed law does not include any mechanism through which the Environment Authority’s experts can screen all planning applications submitted to the Planning Authority. Without this screening and daily communication between experts of the two authorities, the future of the environment is endangered.
6. The law represents a loss of autonomy. All members of the Executive Committee of the Planning Authority are government appointees. Opposition representative and NGO representatives will be represented in Planning Board but not in Executive Committee but not in Executive Committee where policies are discussed. This risks creating a parallel structure in MEPA around the CEO figure. This means that nobody from the outside will supervise operations. Ideally all meetings of the Planning Authority’s Executive Committee should be held in public and minutes published on-line.
7. The outline permit should not be re-introduced. Past experience (ex Mistra) has shown that commitments taken at this stage are difficult to revoke at a later stage. It does not make sense to first approve something in principle without providing the full details.
8. All members of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal should be appointed by the President on the advice of Prime Minister (as is case now) and not by Prime Minister as proposed as this weakens the judicial status enjoyed by current tribunal.
9. All appointees on MEPA boards should be grilled in parliament’s standing committee on the environment and planning. The CEO should report to parliament on a regular basis
10. The new law further weakens the SPED, which was already incomplete when it passed in parliament, as it contains only objectives and not specific policies. The national strategy for planning and environment should be a binding set of policies, which Government and Authority should commit to for a specified period of time, and any changes to it should be carried out through a formal process which is transparent and open to public consultation.