The Malta Chamber of Planners once again cannot accept that planning is blamed for the current woes and frustration of the people as reported in the Times of Malta on February 28 under the title ‘People’s frustration at the construction industry due to bad planning – Sandro Chetcuti’.

The Malta Developers Association’s president, as reported in the article, stated that the country had “failed at planning” and warned colleagues that the public’s frustration with the construction industry was borne out of this failure.

The chamber may agree that the island has failed at planning since currently there is no planning at all and previous administrations, having enacted planning legislation and set up the Planning Authority, through the years gradually debased planning and gave it a negative image in the public eye.

Planning was a learning curve in the 1990s and the newly-formed planners had to learn through experience. Certain policies and plans might have been formulated with more idealistic objectives and in some cases might not have addressed the peculiarities of the local situation.

Such plans and policies were to some extent reactive to the indiscriminate development in the 1980s and the constraints sometimes imposed by the Temporary Provisions Schemes. So planners had to face such constraints and scenarios.

This, added to a lack of planning culture, both among the people and the politicians, where people asked ‘why can’t I develop what I want?’ and politicians putting pressure on planners, contributed in time to the failure of the planning system.

However, to blame the current situation on bad planning is not justified. The non-existence of proper planning is one of the reasons for people’s frustrations. Another is the greed with which certain developments are proposed and approved without appropriate consideration for the context.

The non-existence of proper planning is one of the reasons for people’s frustrations

 Studies and reports in the form of project description statements as well as environmental impact assessments or transport impact assessments are carried out as requested by the authorities, however, when going through these reports one is perplexed by the way impacts, which are obviously of a significant nature, are softened and toned down to make the development look acceptable.

In some cases these studies also suggest some minor mitigation measures but fail to recognise the overall negative impact of the development.

Unfortunately, even the Prime Minister seems to have a lack of understanding of what planning is about, and surely the same applies to members of both the current government and the Opposition.

Planning is about looking into the future primarily to have a vision, strategy and objectives to guide actions taken and avoid creating crises management situations (e.g. waste disposal, traffic management), while at the same time providing a flexible framework to meet changes and new challenges which were not predicted.

Yet, such a flexibility does not mean allowing all to do what they want. Flexibility is to be exercised, but within the vision and strategy set out in the plan.

As reported in the article, it seems that the Prime Minister is suggesting that having master plans will mean that this will not allow developers to do what they want.

Is this to be taken as a justification against having proper plans and policies?

Do we want to keep the free-for-all situation going on as currently is?

Was this why the proposed Pembroke Master Plan was scrapped, in order to allow the developers to do what they want?

Was this also the reason why the Forward Planning section of the Planning Authority was dismantled?

It is easy for the MDA president to state that people’s frustrations are the result of bad planning. However, the reality of such frustrations has nothing to do with planning.

Such frustrations are mainly the result of bad development decisions which put aside the well-being of the public and concede to developers’ exaggerated requests and a result of vague policies, which leave the door open to most development proposals.

Policies which are so vague and can be used to justify or otherwise refuse a development, depending on criteria that go beyond proper planning considerations.

Finally, it is ironic that the MDA president is blaming bad planning for people’s frustrations when the slogan for the AGM was Storja ta’ Ħidma u Success. This would mean that bad planning, to use the president’s words, has led to the developers’ success.

So, one asks, who really is to blame?

Anthony Ellul is the general secretary of the Malta Chamber of Planners.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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