The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Reforming the Planning Authority

Carmel Cacopardo Sunday, 14 May 2023, 08:57 Last update: about 2 years ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela, during his May Day speech, hinted that he will embark on a land use planning reform. His speech was very scant on details. It was however clearly an exercise in damage control after the Labour Party has faced sharp criticism from two of its own mayors, one of whom (Christian Zammit - Xagħra Mayor) has quit the party in disgust. The other, Conrad Borg Manché, Gżira mayor, soldiers on. His hand has been strengthened as a result of the Gżira Court case win against the Lands Authority and its decision to reduce the size of the Gżira public garden to make way for a fuel station.

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The Labour Party is, as always, running with the hares and simultaneously hunting with the hounds. Party Leader Robert Abela lauds his “environmentalist” mayors. Others within the Labour Party hierarchy, however, are busy defending those who are making their life miserable.

The problem with the Planning Authority is that basically it is ignoring its own policies which it is stretching well beyond any elastic limit. Only this week, for this very reason, the Court of Appeal cancelled two land use planning decisions.

Residents and some local councils are up in arms against all sorts of decisions being taken by the Planning Authority. The permit relative to the Mistra Village re-development was originally issued by the Planning Authority in 2013 for a 12-floor high-rise development. The renewal of the development permit was contested by residents on the grounds of its incompatibility with currently existing planning policies. The Environment Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) shot down the residents’ appeal but the Court of Appeal thought otherwise and sent the case back to the drawing board. The Court of Appeal has pointed out that the EPRT had not examined adequately the applicable planning policies to ascertain or otherwise the residents’ claims.

In view of this Court of Appeal decision it is pertinent to ask as to why those taking planning decisions continuously ignore planning policies? Some years back it was the Ombudsman himself who had arrived at a similar conclusion.

This is not a one-off case.

Last Wednesday the Court of Appeal delivered another decision relative to a development in Mellieħa and accepted the Mellieħa Local Councl’s appeal to cancel a development permit for a hotel with related amenities in an area where the local plan forbids hotel development, except in extraordinary circumstances. This eight-floor hotel is linked to the extensive commercial interests of Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli.

The original written recommendation for a refusal of the application was overturned by the Planning Commission. The development permission was subsequently confirmed by the EPRT. The EPRT also refused to issue an order to halt construction until the planning appeal is determined. As a result, the hotel whose permit has now been repealed is now completed! It will have to be extensively altered and possibly parts of it will now have to be demolished as the constructed hotel even benefitted from an additional two-floor bonus over and above the prevailing permissible height! These two floors are not permissible in other circumstances and will then have to be demolished.

All this proves that even on the basis of existing planning policies (which need substantial improvement) one can arrive at reasonable decisions as clearly demonstrated by the Court of Appeal, if only those running the show are capable of strictly observing the rules.

Land use planning is for people.  How are people and their needs factored in our land use planning? Following the various land use planning cases as they develop, it is clear that land use planning is hijacked by those appointed to run the show. This is crystal clear when one examines the different decisions of the Court of Appeal. This refers not just to the decisions referred to above, but to many others too!

This is what a reform of the planning process should address: ensuring that the land use planning decision takers are capable of taking decisions which are both consistent and in line with existing policy. What do we need policy for if it is consistently ignored?

This is the reform required in land use planning.

 

An architect and civil engineer, the author is Chairperson of ADPD-The Green Party in Malta.  [email protected] ,   http://carmelcacopardo.wordpress.com

 

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