Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Michael Farrugia said this morning he did not blame environmental NGOs for organising a protest against planning decisions.

However, he said, they were protesting against decisions taken by the Mepa board under the Nationalist Government. that had tied the hands of the current Mepa board.

Among them, he said, was the permit granted recently for a 700-apartment development on Xemxija ridge, on the site of the former Mistra Village.

The Mepa board had granted the outline development permit under the PN government, Dr Farrugia said.

This meant that the hands of the new board were tied. Not granting the full permit could have resulted in Mepa being sued by the developer and having to fork out some €70 million. 

Dr Farrugia challenged Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to substantiate claims made in parliament yesterday that Mepa was issuing permits haphazardly. This was not the case.  He believed in the independence of Mepa, he said, and only spoke up about the Mistra project because unfair comments were being made.

He added that there was still the chance that the Mistra development objectors would appeal the permit decision.

Environment Minister Leo Brincat said that NGOs had a right to protest and he respected that. He said he would have no problem attending the protest planned for November 30 against planning decisions.

However, he said, he had not been invited and, that day, he had commitments as he would be attending a Nature Trust event planned before the protest was announced.

Dr Farrugia and Mr Brincat were addressing a press conference on Budget measures in St George’s Square Valletta. Mr Brincat insisted that the environment remained a priority and that, contrary to what was said in some circles, no environmental taxes were planned.

He said he had documents in hand showing that the PN government was planning to gradually introduce taxes on waste collection in households and for companies.