The Malta Independent 22 August 2019, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: Why country’s most controversial project could be best thing for the environment

Sunday, 14 July 2019, 11:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

Before the environmentalist brigade brings out its torches and pitchforks and starts marching towards our offices, read on.

The highly contentious db Group project, which has been the source of so much consternation, turmoil and even court cases, may very well turn out to be the best thing for the environment that this country has seen in an awfully long time.

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Allow us to explain.

The db Group, it is reported in today’s issue, intends to sue the Planning Authority for damages after its €300 million project was sent back to the drawing board because of a conflict of interest of one of the board members who approved the project.

That same person, as is well-documented, turned out to have also been selling the project’s apartments before he himself put his stamp of approval on the controversial plans.

And on account of that, and only that, and nothing to do with the merits of the project itself, a judge ordered the whole application process to start over again from scratch.

This will undoubtedly be a costly exercise for the applicants, and the amount of time it will take to go through that whole process again – possibly a year or two – will also be costly, not to mention possible losses incurred to extend financing facilities or who knows what other cost considerations.

Now this is a private enterprise and, admittedly, it needs to provision for such happenstances and we will shed no tears, particularly since we have never been fans of this particular monstrosity.

The Planning Authority could never have imagined that it would find itself in such dire straits. It is now being sued by the db Group for damages which could put a serious strain on its coffers, albeit at the taxpayers’ expense. And let’s face it, this is a €300 million project; the db Group is not asking for peanuts here. It has placed the ball squarely in the court of the legal process to ‘take it to the next level’. And this is exactly why the country’s most controversial project may turn out to be the best thing for the environment, regardless of whether it is approved or not.

Faced with a claim for damages that could potentially run into six or seven digits, the Planning Authority will need to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again. It could also be forced to let go of the errant board member – the genesis of this monumental mess – and inspect the business activities of all other current and future board members.

Even if, between the time of writing and this morning, that board member tenders his resignation, the fact remains that the Planning Authority has completely ignored calls to take stock of its board members so as to root out any other potential conflicts of interest.

At this juncture, some faith needs to be restored in the Planning Authority’s competence and this is but one small step that needs to be taken. Planning, after all, is one of the most sensitive areas in the whole of the public administration – and one of the most prone to abuse and corruption. It is an area that irreversibly alters the country with each decision. Once something is cemented over, there is no going back, no matter how much you try.

The good news for those who object to the project – whose celebrations were a tad bit premature when the court sent the project back to the drawing board – is that they now have another shot at getting it scrapped, although that appears to be a long shot, considering how the same project had already been approved on its merits, however questionable they may be.

By going back to square one, the project could very well get scrapped, that much is true, but it could also very well get approved. 

But, at the end of the day, it will be the lawsuit instituted by the db Group that could actually provide the wake-up call the Planning Authority needs when it comes to its board and its functions. This project, ironically, could also very well end up being the best thing for the environment we have seen in a long time.

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