The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial - Planning Authority: Something is wrong

Tuesday, 25 June 2019, 08:09 Last update: about 27 days ago

Something is clearly wrong with The Planning Authority. Recently three high profile cases resulted in the courts finding issues with the PA process.

The three cases in question dealt with the db Group's application for the ITS site, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg's swimming pool, and the Maghtab fuel station application. Each of these was a blow to the credibility of the Planning Authority.

The first, saw the court find that a conflict of interest existed when a board member took a vote on the ITS project. Indeed this shows that the PA lacks the necessary safeguards to ensure that such instances do not occur, and brings up the question as to whether any such conflicts also existed in past applications. 

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The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) had exonerated Pace, thus showing that the whole Planning process' understanding of conflict of interest is not on par with what the courts consider to be a conflict. This means that the Planning Authority, and the EPRT need to rethink their position on similar situations in the process, and re-assess their definition of a conflict of interest.

Indeed this was not the only issue with this particular case, and questions had arisen when the PA paid for a board member who was on leave to be flown in when she was out of the country on holiday for the vote.

In the case of Ian Borg's swimming pool, the court found that the Planning Authority did not adhere to the correct policy, and that the local plans should have been the basis for the decision. The latter, regarding the Maghtab fuel station, basically went a step further than what the EPRT decided, and sent the application back to pre-decision stage. This was also another high profile case which many consider as the first case that really sparked the debate regarding the fuel station application regulations.

In terms of the Maghtab case, objectors were concerned that the board would not hear their representations again on the case.

Indeed each of these cases saw different reasons argued over different points, but each one slowly eats away at the already disastrous reputation of the Planning Authority.

The PA is already seen by many as being favourable to developers, and now whether that is true or not is another argument entirely. What is certain however, is that the PA does need to step up its game and bring itself in line with the court's understanding of situations.

In addition, many argue that the voice of the public is ignored during such cases. The board indeed should take policy into consideration first and foremost, however, maybe the PA needs to start revamping its policies to be based on what the people want. For one, perhaps more restrictions of tall construction and on ODZ construction are required, given the large number of objections such cases bring.

The PA also needs to clearly define what policies are considered more important than others. There have been countless cases where the local plans say one thing, and other policy say otherwise. Bringing these policies into line is of the utmost importance in order for the objectors or the developer not to feel cheated by a decision.


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