Opposition representative on the Planning Authority board Marthese Portelli has called for her own position to be abolished, saying MPs should stick to their role as legislators rather than sit on government boards.
“A recent court judgment warned that when an MP sitting on the board takes a position on a development application prior to it being put to the vote, it could give rise to a conflict of interest which in turn could trigger a legal challenge on the PA’s decision,” she said.
Dr Portelli sounded the warning on Tuesday evening during the Budget debate on the financial estimates of the Infrastructure Ministry.
“While I believe such a measure had been well intended, with hindsight, I believe it is not achieving the desired results,” she said.
Dr Portelli noted that from her experience as the Opposition representative, more often than not her stance on planning applications was being interpreted as being politically motivated and consequently placed her in an awkward position.
“While I have no qualms about expressing my position on development applications, I believe MPs should stick to their role as legislators as they would still be open to public scrutiny on such matters,” she said.
Dr Portelli also called for three specific policies to address certain grey areas and raise standards in terms of architectural design, the skyline and landscaping.
“Leaving an open space and planting some trees does not necessarily qualify as landscaping,” she said.
The PN MP welcomed the government’s decision to launch a consultation process on the revision of the rural policy and said this boded well for a bipartisan approach on planning matters.
Opposition sending mixed messages – Ian Borg
Winding up the debate, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg welcomed Dr Portelli’s call for a common front. However, he said that other members of the Opposition were solely intent on adopting a negative approach, shooting down every government initiative or shifting positions overnight such as on the issue of the Malta-Gozo tunnel.
“Which is the Opposition we are dealing with?” Dr Borg asked.
The Transport Minister also gave a general overview of the efforts being made to improve the bus service saying that when compared to 2011, patronage had increased by 60%.
He also commented on the first year of Infrastructure Malta, saying this was changing the face of the country, having already spent €64 million on the improvement of major arterial thoroughfares. Furthermore, the agency had started working on the first batch of 120 residential roads in the seven-year €700 million reconstruction programme, as well as on the upgrading of 100 rural roads.
On the Central Link Project, he remarked this had been in the government’s plans since the 1960s when George Borg Olivier was Prime Minister and tabled the original plan. He added that subsequent local plans published under PN governments led by Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi also included this new road.
“Yet, I am being accused by the Opposition of having personal interests in this project as I commute through Attard on a daily basis,” he said.
Shoddy roadworks by Infrastructure Malta
Opposition MP Toni Bezzina criticised the quality of certain road works carried out by IM saying these left much to be desired due to bad workmanship, and, at times, cost-cutting measures. Repairs on the ‘wavy’ Mellieħa bypass which were meant to be carried out last year were yet to be carried out as were various residential roads in Marsascala and Mqabba.
He also referred to the road from Ħal Far to Żurrieq, saying it had become prone to flooding as a result of a poor resurfacing job. Mr Bezzina remarked that even parts of the recently laid asphalt at the new Marsa flyover was of poor quality.
Petition for Senglea ferry service
At the start of the sitting, a petition for the extension of the Valletta ferry service to Senglea was tabled by Labour MP Glen Bedingfield who is also the head of the Cottonera Regeneration Committee.
He said that Senglea residents felt aggrieved by the fact that they were not served by this service a very popular alternative means of transport to the capital. Moreover, the hours of service should be extended at night especially in winter, he said.
Mr Bedingfield also urged the authorities to make the best possible use of public open spaces in Cottonera, including vacant government-owned dwellings.
Such consideration was at the heart of the Labour MP’s objection to a controversial plan to expand the campus of the American University of Malta along Dock One in Cospicua.
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