Maltese planners must focus on the common good of society, and not fall under the pressure of “conflicting interests”, the President of the Malta Chamber of Planners said on Monday.
Addressing the ‘Spatial Planning Governance for the 21st Century’ conference Bjorn Bonello said every aspect of life involves planning, and it is necessary that good governance is included when it comes to spatial planning.
“Good governance needs to ensure that the primary objective of planning is the common good,” he said.
“It needs to address the common good for economic development, social development, and the environment. Planning must ensure that it shares the common good for our communities also.”
The conference was organised by the Malta Chamber of Planners, the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta, and the European Council for Spatial Planning (ECTP-CEU).
It comes days before activists and academics take part in a national environmental protest, demanding urgent environmental and planning reforms.
Bonello said planners have the responsibility to safeguard the interest of all living things and that planners should be warranted for the profession to be recognised.
The Chamber has been calling for planners to be warranted for nearly 20 years.
His call for warranting planners was echoed by Kevin Gatt, the head of the Department of Spatial Planning at the University of Malta.
"Advocating planners and warranting them to undertake specific tasks means they are assigned responsibility and accountability," Gatt said.
Bonello said the Chamber was never against development but has always called for sustainable development.
He said the Chamber has noted that while policies are not perfect, now is the time to address how policies have been misinterpreted in recent years.
“Decision makers are not interpreting the policy correctly. The latest number of court cases which have overturned planning decisions indicate that the policy was not interpreted correctly.”
“We need to continue to push towards focusing on the common good, despite the tension and pressure from conflicting interests,” he said.
A good planner is an ethical planner
Janet Askew, ECTP-CEU President said spatial planning governance plays an important role in addressing and solving many of the world’s major issues, such as climate change, over-development and overpopulation.
She said the main "failure" planners have faced is failing to convince politicians, businesses and communities that planning is a necessity to be carried out in the public’s interest.
She said the public does not see the benefit of planning, and that politicians fail to see the importance and benefits of planning.
“With the rise of market economics, politicians have been torn between the powerful interest of landowners and developers and the interest of communities.”
She said the ECTP is working towards gathering all the associations of planners who are members of the council and setting up a code of conduct to ensure all planners work without bias and corruption.
“A good planner is an ethical planner,” she said.
“An ethical planner is trusted by the community and that is part of convincing the community that we are working for their benefit.”
She said planners must engage with local people throughout development and ensure that the community have a role in good planning.
Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi also addressed the conference and highlighted the need for planning to consider the country’s social, economic, and environmental aspects.
“Managing land to accommodate our various growing economic demands is one of the country’s main challenges,” Zrinzo Azzopardi said.
He said now is the time to identify areas that require “holistic regeneration”.
“Urban planning can provide the necessary tools to revitalise in a substantial manner these areas and maximise their potential by respecting their heritage aspects and providing an upgraded urban environment for residents and communities.”
What are the planning similarities between Jersey and Malta?
One key speaker during the conference was Natasha Day, the head of Strategic Housing and Regeneration in the government of Jersey, Channel Islands.
Throughout her discussion, she highlighted the similarities that Malta and Jersey (a Channel Island between France and the UK) share.
She said both islands face pressures due to being densely populated, having a strong dependency towards motor vehicles and depending on land reclamation for development.
She highlighted that Jersey also has a growing elderly population and a low birth rate - a similar situation to Malta - and that young people are leaving the island for better study and work experiences.
While 50 per cent of Jersey's land is agricultural, she said the industry does not make an equal amount of the island's economic output.
"The island's development has changed in recent years to address the drive for more economic development, providing better work services and work on improving infrastructure capacity," she said.
While the problems the two islands face are similar, Day explained that Jersey's planners work hand in hand with the community.
"The community's voice is very strong when it comes to the development and planning," she said.
Another stark difference is that Jersey's planning strategy is revised every 10 years.
During her talk, she presented Jersey's 400-page document on planning and said the plan will be revised soon.
"There is a need for a balance. Our plan is to have an island that offers everyone the opportunity to contribute and share in the success of a strong sustainable economy," she said.
"To gain a sustainable economy and wellbeing, politics must strive to gain economic ambitions but to also understand the needs of our communities and protect our culture and heritage."
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