The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

On ‘fairness and transparency’

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 11 June 2019, 08:25 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Planning Authority [PA] is, in a nutshell, responsible for determining what does and does not get built. This is done mainly by processing and deciding on specific development applications, and by proposing and implementing changes in plans and policies that should govern how these decisions are taken.

Its role has a major impact on the lives of all residents of Malta and Gozo, many of whom often need to participate directly within the planning system, either by applying for an application for a development themselves, or by objecting to a proposed development that may have a detrimental impact on their property, their environment, their community or their heritage.

With such an overarching influence it may seem reasonable that the PA bases its mission statement almost entirely on improving people’s lives  - We endeavour to provide a better quality of life for the community through transparent and fair planning services, today and tomorrow  (PA Website). In addition to this, the PA again notes ‘Fairness and Transparency’ amongst its primary values. But how does this really play out?

Well, in spite of the PA’s claims, when taking on the role of an objector, participating within the planning system can be very daunting and often perplexing.

The first difficulty lies in the fact that due to its technical nature, the content that makes up a planning application is in itself complex, often requiring expertise to understand. In addition to that, under the current system, the objector (unlike the applicant) has limited access to the information relating to the development application. This leaves the objector largely in the dark about a number of documents that may, and often do, have great bearing on the case. The whole task is then further complicated by the fact that the system is simply constantly changing. Be it through changes in policies, plans or administrative processes, a system in place today may easily be obsolete a few months down the line.

One example of a recent change in how applications are processed is the Planning Authority’s decision to block the public’s access to all development applications until a very late stage in the application’s processing, generally by which time all impact assessments, such as environmental or traffic, are already complete, and amendments to the proposal already in place.

So now, on top of all the hurdles and difficulties that objectors already faced when opposing an application to defend their property, or safeguard their wellbeing, these members of the public are also unable to act with reasonable foresight, being left completely clueless about the implications of a planning application until the very last stages of its processing.

To add insult to injury, this drastic administrative change implemented by the PA was (perhaps unsurprisingly) carried out without even consulting the very same public affected by it. The Authority did not even consult the Users’ Committee which is the autonomous body made up of members representing all users of the PA,  specifically tasked with ensuring that administrative processes are indeed fair and effective for all.

By limiting the public’s access to information, the PA has implemented a change that is anything but fair and transparent. In fact this change simply makes it harder and more complicated for the public to participate effectively within the planning system, and almost impossible for them to be adequately informed and form part of the decision-making process on applications directly impacting their environment, their lives and their wellbeing.

Tara Cassar is an architect focusing on planning policies and environmental issues related to land-use, active with a number of local eNGOs and sits as NGO representative on the Users’ Committee

[email protected]

 

 

 

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