As someone who has been slogging in the environmental vineyard for some years now, I cherish the greenwash windfall and ritual this country experiences every four to five years in the run-up to an election, with both parties jostling to wrench the green vote through increasingly audacious proposals.

A sense of déjà vu pervades the run-up to this election, with the undersigned penning a column on February 5, 2017, carrying the exact same title as the one in caption, to denounce the vague nature of environmental proposals by both parties.

With the ADPD duo not poised, according to latest polls, to make many waves at the next election, the green vote is up for grabs. Representatives from environmental NGOs are being wheeled out by both the PL and the PN in a sleek marketing exercise which aims to project the consultative facet of both parties.

The PN has largely re-mashed the 2017 electoral campaign environmental proposals on planning, reiterating its intention to subject proposals for large-scale ODZ development to a parliamentary vote, to relinquish control of the land at Żonqor Point slated for the American University development and to buy back any parcels of land which were jettisoned from ODZ areas through the 2006 development boundary amendments.

While such proposals are positive, they are ineffective in addressing the relentless loss of ODZ land to development on these islands. It’s a parrot’s secret, in fact, that the bane of ODZ areas on these islands is their piecemeal destruction (‘one blow at a time’) through the unremitting submission and approval, in many cases, of development applications on the same areas by Joe Citizen.

Take planning application PA05037/21, which, a prima facie, is proposing the reconstruction of dilapidated buildings to be used as residential buildings in an ODZ area in Kalkara. This is a convenient ploy to disguise what the application actually wants to achieve. The same parcel of land, extending over a gargantuan footprint of 19,000 square metres, as rightly pointed out by the ERA, lies within the Wied ta’ Rinella area of ecological importance, by virtue of the rocky steppe habitat it supports.

As aptly indicated by the Ramblers Association, the site manifestly presents an insignificant footprint occupied by the ‘dilapidated buildings’ it makes leverage on, with the application disproportionately proposing to replace the dilapidated buildings with 10 villas.

In addition, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) has expressed grave concerns that the proposed development will rub shoulders with a number of Grade 2 scheduled historical features, namely a British period pillbox and ventilation shaft as well as the ‘Red House’.

The Maltese electorate’s environmental credentials are only skin-deep- Alan Deidun

The SCH’s chagrin at and unambiguous position on such a proposed development is thus only understandable – “The superintendence expresses grave concern at the proposed intensification of development and formalisation of this cultural landscape, which is marked by the presence of significant military and historical structures. The proposed development is totally objectionable in principle due to detrimental impact this would have on this culturally and ecologically significant environment as well as the values of the Grade 2 buildings.”

None of our political exponents who have subjected themselves to the current greenwashing ritual have uttered a single decibel of dissent against such an odious type of planning application, probably so as not to prejudice their political future.

During my short stint in the political arena, way back during the 2009 European Parliament electoral campaign, rather than sticking to the comfort zone provided by ornate and grandiose palaver, I regularly held press events on the site of objectionable proposed development so as to draw attention to these planning applications. I was punctually reminded by those submitting the applications that they would actively campaign not to have me elected. The rest is history.

Projecting oneself as an ODZ safeguarding stalwart only wins you brownie points with the electorate as long as you stick to the grandstanding and vague statements (‘ODZ should remain ODZ’), steering clear of the specific detail which would give your proposals a veneer of credibility.

While the PL can assert that development boundaries were not extended by a single inch since 2013 given that PL governments did not embark on any ill-advised ‘scheme rationalisation exercise’ as the one of 2006, ODZ development still took place on the party’s watch courtesy of the highly permissive Rural Policy and Design Guidelines (RPDG) of 2014, whose revision has been in the pipeline for a couple of years already.

The PN has not proclaimed itself on the ODZ policies, leading observers to speculate, probably rightly, that the party is coy about ruffling the feathers of potential voters who have benefitted since 2014 from the same permissive policies.

The PN’s strategists are probably fully aware that the restrictive policies of MEPA during its legislatures, which were conceived by many as a bureaucratic hindrance to development permits, did cost the party a deluge of votes. Thus, any anti-ODZ development stance adopted by the PN will definitely not advocate for any revisions to current ODZ policies affecting Joe Citizen’s chances of getting a permit for the rural rooms or reservoir he has been yearning so long for.

And the parallels between the two parties in terms of green strategies do not stop here. For instance, both parties have glaringly failed to proclaim themselves on the illegal shanty towns gracing l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa and other coastal areas, fully aware of the voter haemorrhage this would lead to. None have spoken about the need to give the ERA the power of veto on planning decision-making boards where areas of ecological importance are concerned (such as the parcel of land at Kalkara), finally giving the ERA the fangs that it deserves.

The bottom line is that ODZ development will ensue on these islands, irrespective of the party in government, since the Maltese electorate’s environmental credentials are only skin-deep.

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