The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Labour's environmental credentials: ‘the facts speak for themselves’ – FAA

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 8 May 2017, 15:32 Last update: about 3 years ago

Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, asked by this newsroom to rate government's performance on the environment over the past four years, said that the facts speak for themselves and went on to mention a number of controversial issues.

"Starting from the Sadeen project on virgin ODZ land, to the total conversion of MEPA to a permit-issuing factory, to the record number of ODZ permits given out, to the pro-hunting bias - we need not elaborate. We think that it is essential that this orgy of construction be reined in and measures encouraging sustainability be introduced."

ADVERTISEMENT

This morning, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat presented the latest priorities for the Labour Party, and mentioned a few points about the environment, including that environmental protection, the right to clean air, environmental health and the right to action in favour of the environment be enshrined in the constitution.

Asked about the PL's latest environment proposals, FAA had the following to say: "the Labour Party has proposed the protection of the environment by means of its entrenchment in the Constitution. This is a welcome step as long as it means that all citizens will be given a right of action to sue the government of the day for non-implementation of environmental regulation, and for its inaction in protecting against environmental pollution."

"This right of action must be effectively accessible to all citizens which means that the government will no longer pose procedural legal obstacles in the way of citizens. Moreover the right has to be specific in scope, and any damages must be payable by the government in case of breach. It has to be a real right and not some airy-fairy green-wash declaration."

"The second proposal is Labour's declaration that there will be no more public projects on ODZ sites. Why doesn't this prohibition extend to private projects? And which are the protected ODZ sites? Will they still be able to be changed with the flick of a legislator's pen? For this to be a serious proposal, ODZ sites have to be listed and entrenched in the Constitution as must the prohibition on their development and commercialisation."

PL's track record in the past four years does not inspire confidence - DLH

Din L-Art Helwa, in reaction to the Prime Minister’s pledges, said that it is used to hearing politicians from both parties making promises to the electorate to save the environment especially in an election campaign.

Asked about the PL’s credibility on the environment given their track record, DLH said: “the Labour Party's track record in the past 4 years does not inspire confidence since they had promised the same in 2013 whilst in practice we have seen a relaxation of controls over building in the countryside and within heritage areas, and a huge increase in contentious permits granted.”

“The weakened planning authority as a result of the demerger of the Environment Authority, the passing of legislation and policies designed to facilitate development with reduced control have resulted in serious loss to our natural and historical environment. The PL would need to work hard to gain credibility that they are serious about environmental protection.”

“We have seen unnecessary development in ODZ areas encouraged by the prime minister himself for virgin tracts of coastline such as Zonqor Point, the pushing through without sufficient studies of tall buildings, not to mention the numerous permits granted that are rapidly destroying our heritage. None of these projects result in an improvement of quality of life for us citizens but it is only a handful who gain from such developments.”

The issue is not legislation, it lies with enforcement - Briguglio

Dr Michael Briguglio, representing Front Harsien ODZ, was also asked whether Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is credible on the environment following the events over the past four years.

“Malta’s legislation already provides a lot of environmental protection. The issue is not with legislation, the issue is with enforcement, resources etc. We can have the best legislation, but if government does not enforce, does not provide the necessary resources, and changes the goal posts from time to time, then they cannot be taken seriously.”

As an example, he mentioned Malta’s Rural Development Policies. “We have had a mushrooming on ODZ applications in rural areas over the past few weeks, most of which were approved by the Planning authority. We have also seen cases where they were originally not approved, but the goal posts were then changed. Government’s track record is not encouraging when it comes to the environment.”

Turning to the pledge for no major public project to take place on ODZ land, Dr Briguglio said that the first thing government should do is withdraw the Zonqor development. “Secondly government should say whether the motorsports track proposal would be on ODZ land. Thirdly, what about private projects - this worries me even more. Is he saying that private development on ODZ will be allowed and if yes, what is he speaking about. Are there other mega projects in the pipeline?”

Friends of the Earth Malta calls on political parties to safeguard our wellbeing 

Friends of the Earth Malta, speaking with The Malta Independent, said that the Labour Party has proposed the protection of the environment by means of its entrenchment in the Constitution.

Echoing FAA's statement, FOE said: "This is one of the measures we have been advocating for a long time. However in order for this to be a truly effective measure it has to mean that all citizens/ngos will be given a right of action to sue the government  for non-implementation of environmental regulation and for its inaction in protecting against environmental pollution."

Turning to the declaration that there will be no more public projects on ODZ sites, the FOE stressed that this can only be meaningful if the prohibition extends to all developments and/or commercialisation on ODZ land. "Otherwise there is the risk of yet more loopholes being found. We insist that both the ODZ sites and the universally-applicable moratorium be  entrenched in the constitution."

"As an ENGO we are disappointed with the lack of attention given to our natural and rural environment and are making the other proposals listed in our press statement."

In a press statement later in the day, the FOE explained that they have been calling for environmental improvements since 1985 and, "thirty years on we face much greater problems than we did then. While environmental awareness has increased, Malta faces a variety of environmental problems related to land use, waste, transport, agriculture, energy, the sea, and biodiversity."

The FOE feels that Malta has lost far too much countryside and coastal areas to building that was, and is, unnecessary and unsustainable. "Friends of the Earth Malta will not take government's commitment to the environment seriously unless targets are set for sustainable water, land, energy use and pollution is reduced."

FOE proposals

Friends of the Earth Malta intends to be at the vanguard of environmental and biodiversity protection as it has in the past. "In view of the severe environmental threats facing the Maltese Islands, FoE Malta is making the following proposals to be taken up by the political parties."

They argue that, with regards to the Constitutional entrenchment of environmental protection: "all citizens should be given right of action to sue Government for implementation and enforcement of laws/actions to protect environment and air quality. This right is to be entrenched in Constitution."

They also state that ODZ or Public Domain Sites should be designated as no-building/no commerce zones in the Constitution. They also state that all ERA/PA Boards and Appeals Bodies should have 50% members appointed by NGOs

FOE feels that Manoel Island and White Rocks should be designated as public parks. They also call for the capping of ERA/PA fees for bonafide NGOs.

They called for the introduction of initiatives incentivising NGOs which work in environmental advocacy and protection of biodiversity, and also called for a pollinator strategy for the Maltese Islands

"We all need nature and a healthy living environment in our lives, it gives us freedom and helps us live healthily; yet deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature in their surroundings and it's suffocating for our well-being as a nation."

FAA Proposals

Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar also made a number of proposals in a press statement sent slightly later in the day.

Like Friends of the Earth, FAA argues that all citizens should be given right of action to sue Government for implementation and enforcement of laws/actions to protect environment and air quality. This right is to be entrenched in Constitution. They also state that ODZ or Public Domain Sites should be designated as no-building/no commerce zones in the Constitution.

FAA proposes a review and repeal planning laws (limit on tenure of Board members, strip PA CEO of some powers, review DC 15, review Rural Design Policy 2014, review Childcare in ODZ policy).  They also call for an increase in the support and capacity of enforcement planning agencies to ensure universal compliance to existing policies as well as true and effective protection of third party rights.

FAA called for all Planning Boards and Appeals Bodies to have 50 % members appointed by Civil Society and to include Kamra tal-Periti.

They propose a freezing of applications more than 10 floors high including those permits which are under appeal before a national master plan is drafted in line with SPED. “Designated high rises zones should be further restricted.”

Turning to air quality and traffic, the FAA states that development applications should not be allowed to worsen situation created by past permits issued without a corresponding investment in infrastructure to handle resultant traffic. “Such intensive developments should be made to pay for infrastructural amelioration. Public transport upgrades coupled with the introduction of nationwide network of safe cycle lanes as well as increased enforcement on vehicles belching emissions abusively.”

Joining FOE, they call for a cap on Planning Authority and Planning Tribunal fees for bonafide NGOS

FAA also urges improved access to Gozo in a way that does not increase cars and pollution in Gozo.

 

FAA also called for the reinstatement of protection of heritage properties, establish a system of grants to owners of heritage properties and tax exemption/grants to NGOs preserving properties or the environment.

 


  • don't miss