Malta's architects' lobby has called for greater protection of countryside areas, saying the country's small size and land scarcity mean supreme efforts are needed to safeguard rural areas.
In its comments as part of a public consultation process on changes to the 2014 Rural Policy Design Guidance, the Kamra tal-Periti also called for a change in the way land was classified, as existing categories are "misleading and poorly defined".
'Outside Development Zone', for instance, combined both pristine countryside and agricultural land.
The Planning Authority last month launched a public consultation asking stakeholders for their opinions on how its rural policy should be reviewed.
The policy, which lays out how development can happen in rural areas, has been strongly criticised for making it too easy for construction to take place in Outside Development Zones.
Times of Malta has revealed that a PA-established group tasked with revising the the policy went months without meeting and discussed, among other things, granting amnesties to ODZ developments as part of a possible review.
In its submission, the Kamra tal-Periti argued that rural areas have intrinsic value beyond their monetary worth.
The Kamra said the current policy divides territory into four sections: development zones; outside the development zone (ODZ); rural settlements; and urban areas. It said these are “misleading and poorly defined”, giving rise to “unrealistic and unfocused planning goals, contradictory policy objectives, and a sense of distrust and bewilderment of the public directed towards the Planning Authority as an institution.”
It suggested that territory be classified into two broad categories: urban areas and rural areas, which broadly identify the character, identity and acceptable development typologies. These broad categories should then be further subdivided to hone into more specific urban and rural typologies.
It held that one of the main deficiencies of the ODZ designation is that it combines natural pristine areas with land taken up by agriculture. The separation between the two needs to be clear and distinct, both in terms of classification and policy, it said, as it insisted that the importance of protecting the natural environment is well-understood.
“The positive effects the natural environment has on addressing climate change, air and water quality, biodiversity, social well-being, and to national and local identity are expressed in various policy documents. Nevertheless, this awareness is poorly translated into effective planning policy,” it said.
Villages and hamlets have for decades been incorrectly designated as urban areas, it said, adding that “reckless planning policy decisions, driven primarily by short-sighted speculative interests, was a loss of local identity through processes that saw individual villages join into a single conurbation characterised by poor quality and soulless construction, completely disregarding the rural identity of the villages they sprawled out of.”
It also suggested that research and discussion was needed to determine how to best address the defacement caused by “ill-thought urbanisation” in rural settlements over the past 30 years.
In its comments, the KTP said that the current policy provided opportunities for the creation of new residential units within the rural area subject to a number of criteria. However, little effort has been made by the authorities and no incentive was given to the public to intensify the rural and green nature of the rural environment.
The KTP said the PA's Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) had not translated into urban and rural governance which is action-oriented, and has remained “a set of objectives with little to no tangible results”.
It strongly urged the PA to start reviewing SPED right away, and to run the review of the Rural Policy in parallel.
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