The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: Environment - ‘Intelligent planning’ and ODZ

Monday, 6 April 2020, 08:58 Last update: about 3 months ago

Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia said in an interview published by The Malta Independent on Sunday that development will help the economy recover post-COVID-19, but intelligent planning and the protection of ODZ will not be abandoned. Both are concepts that should be followed; however, past governments over recent legislatures have had an atrocious track-record in both.

To be specific, the minister said: “I agree that the sector will be an important economic motor not only because it generates wealth but also because it employs many people. This does not mean, however, that we will abandon the concept of intelligent and sustainable development. It does not mean that we will abandon my call for ODZ to remain ODZ. It means that we will support intelligent planning that will create wealth without sacrificing the environment, so that we can emerge strong and successful from this crisis.”

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This is indeed quite a bold statement, especially given that near to no ‘intelligent planning’ has been seen in the development sector over the past several years, and as such how can such a concept be abandoned if it is not in place to begin with? The country needs intelligent planning, and hopefully the minister can make this happen.

Where was the intelligent planning in the decision taken to allow rampant high-rise construction in St Julian’s and Sliema when the infrastructure is not able to handle it? And here, we are not just talking about roads, but also sewage infrastructure. In such a case the previous administration’s concept of intelligent planning must have been to let developers do whatever they want, then react to it, thus their approach was reactionary which hardly constitutes intelligent planning. Where was the intelligent planning in providing green open spaces within localities, like parks where one does not need to travel to the countryside to see some greenery? Where was the intelligent planning when it came to the Paceville and Pembroke hotchpotch of projects? No, intelligent planning is not something that this country has seen, but perhaps it is something that can start to be practised.

When Minister Farrugia took up his new role, these issues were already present. One hopes that he will be able to introduce intelligent planning to a sector sorely lacking it, and even actually back up the concept of sustainable development rather than have it be a catchphrase as it was in the past for the government under Muscat’s leadership.

Farrugia needs time to spread his wings, and yes the onset of COVID-19 has surely hindered him from doing so, but the country is fed up with the construction sector calling the shots. People are fed up with buildings collapsing, causing loss of life. People are fed up with contractors filling streets with dust with complete disregard for neighbours. People are fed up with buildings towering above a street of townhouses. Action is needed. The construction sector is a monster that needs to be controlled, and the Planning Authority has thus far only proven to be a failure when it comes to picking the environment over construction.

Minister Farrugia has a long road ahead of him in terms of regaining the trust of the people in the government in terms of the protection of the environment and planning, and he does not have much room for any mistakes. Too many mistakes were made in the past.

The minister speaks about protecting ODZ. Many ministers have spoken about this in the past, yet this does not seem to apply to road construction. Instead of seeking to reduce the number of cars on the road, the Muscat government embarked on a series of major road-widening and extension projects, which will result in more cars on the road (should the economy recover to the state it was in prior to COVID-19). A different strategy is needed.

 

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