Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat said he did not see the possi-bility of outside development zones being changed by a Labour government.

The construction industry is feeling stifled but we still believe in you

“It will all boil down to discussions and negotiations but I want to make it clear that we will start off from the premise that the boundaries of the outside development zones will not be touched,” he said yesterday.

However, the issue posed a challenge especially because outside development zones were the places where schools and hospitals, for example, had room for expansion, he added. In two back-to-back sessions, Dr Muscat first briefed a small group of environmental and voluntary groups and then a large crowd of developers and architects about his proposals to overhaul the planning authority.

Astrid Vella, from Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, welcomed the proposal to separate the planning and environment functions of the planning authority but she expressed concern that the proposals did not tackle the main issues raised by the public such as overdevelopment. “There are 70,000 plus empty residences and Mepa cannot refuse permits that comply with local plans,” she said.

Dr Muscat said overhauling the local plans was a process the Labour Party wanted to push forward quickly as it was long overdue. The issue of overdevelopment would be tackled through the restructuring of the structural and local plans.

Rudolph Ragonesi, of Gaia Foundation, called for more enforcement and capacity building while developer Sandro Chetcuti, from the Malta Developers Association, said he wanted to express “the pain of those who want to invest” but were not managing to do so because they did not manage to obtain the required permits.

He referred to the planning authority’s fees as “suicide” and said the cost of applying for a permit was like “buying land”. Also, there should be a representative of developers and those involved in the business on the planning board. Former Nationalist Roads Minister Jesmond Mugliett pointed out that a parliamentary committee on the environment, which has been proposed by Labour, already existed.

“I like that the Labour Party’s proposals give more say to the stakeholders while before it was all about the planning authority,” Mr Mugliett, an architect, said.

Dr Muscat said the new parliamentary committee would be like the “Public Accounts Committee of development” that would scrutinise policies. Turning to Mepa tariffs, he said the issue would be immediately tackled and discussions would be held with stakeholders.

“The construction industry is feeling stifled but we still believe in you,” Dr Muscat said.

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