The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development failed – Chamber of Architects

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 22 May 2019, 09:23 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Chamber of Architects believes that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development [SPED], which was introduced back in 2015, has failed in its objectives.

SPED had sought to enable economic growth, strengthen employment opportunities, increase competitiveness and innovation whilst ensuring a healthy environment for future generations, according to the Environment and Resources Authority’s website.

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The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change, together with the Environment and Resources Authority, had embarked on a consultation process to establish the overall objectives for a National Strategy for the Environment. The Chamber of Architects was responding to this, providing their feedback.

The Chamber “noted that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) is now reaching the end of its intended lifetime, and there is no doubt that this Strategic Plan has failed.”

It went on to state that the vision for the SPED outlined a number of targets, including that: the Maltese islands shall move closer to a low-carbon, zero-waste, green economy, and shall halt the decline of their biodiversity, improve the quality of their water resources and use space sustainably; That the Urban Area shall be clean, pollution free, safe, green, distinct, evoke a sense of openness, energy efficient and generate energy from micro-renewable infrastructure; That the Urban Area shall be clean, pollution free, safe, green, distinct, evoke a sense of openness, energy efficient and generate energy from micro-renewable infrastructure; That the Urban Area shall have a network of economically dynamic urban hubs and walkable neighbourhoods with clusters of local facilities, and many others.

In total, the Chamber listed the 13 targets in the SPED and said, while calling it “a long list of ambitious and extensive targets,” that “sadly, most, if not all, of these targets have scarcely been addressed, let alone achieved. It is further disheartening to note that, in some cases, we have only managed to achieve negative results in certain targets, with rapidly deteriorating urban environments leading to community alienation and the disintegration of traditional community support structures, urban development further feeding into scarce green public open space, deteriorating air and water quality, severe mobility issues and growing threats to Gozo’s potential as an ecological island.”

On the upcoming National Strategy for the Environment and its Vision for 2050, the Chamber argued that the proposed objectives are generally positive. These proposed objectives are” to ensure a better and sustainable quality of life; provide clear and long-term direction for our environment; set out national environmental targets; address the main environmental challenges Malta is facing; and to integrate and synergise efforts of all policies and stakeholders who directly or indirectly influence the state of our environment.

The Chamber highlighted that measurability will be key to the credibility and success of the Strategy. “This requires the establishment of a clear integrated framework of specific indicators across a broad spectrum of environmental criteria, against which one can establish a clear baseline, establish targets for improvement, and measure regular progress.”

Integrated Governance is key to the success of the strategy, the Chamber also said, and requires that overarching policy direction and all sectoral Government policies are aligned, including policies related to the economy, planning, transport, tourism, education, health, water and energy, industry, and agriculture.

The Chamber commented that the question as to what constitutes a sustainable quality of life needs further elaboration. “Without a common and agreed definition of ‘quality of life’, tied to a set of measurable indicators, there is the risk of being too aspirational and in turn, ineffective.”

“The objectives of the Strategy need to include a review of existing ‘environment’ policies, those that have been drafted before from a strictly environmental perspective (e.g. National Environment Policy), as well as those policies in other sectoral policy documents (e.g. energy, transport, agriculture, water, and so on) that have an environmental impact.  The long-term goal of this Strategy should be seen as an opportunity to first develop a vision and then a strategy with strict timeframes for delivery of measures and achievement of targets. It seems from the consultation document that the terms vision and strategy are used without much consideration of their meaning and value to the process. Strategy, with defined short, medium and long-term objectives, should follow a long-term vision, taking us to 2050.”

Responding to the consultation question regarding what aspects it retains to be crucial to consider in the vision for 2050, the Chamber said that the failure to uphold the SPED objectives stem from a number of factors, “primarily the lack of institutional capacity for integrating and supporting environmental concerns in aspects of development planning, transport, agriculture, water and other sectors, but also the prioritisation of short-term politically driven policy over long-term institutional and public commitment to address the impending environmental risks these islands are facing.”

The Chamber argues that the lack of land use planning and the practice of development control need to be separated “as evidently their institutional integration have failed us. Planning is a necessity - a failure to plan is a perfect plan to fail - planning is therefore a crucial aspect of the Strategy. “

Some of the issues that the Chamber of Architects considers crucial for consideration in the 2050 vision include: Urban environmental improvement; Reduced air and noise pollution; An effective, environment friendly, energy efficient public transport system and a strategy for mobility; Improved infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists; The protection of rural land, peri-urban areas, natural habitats and the coastal zone, as well as open spaces within the development zone; A proper assessment of the effects and impacts of land reclamation on the environment; Waste management and others.

Asked what they believe will be Malta’s main environmental challenges in the coming year, the Chamber gave quite a long list, including water scarcity, full protection of the irreplaceable natural landscape, and reducing noise and air pollution, amongst others.

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