Some weeks ago, one of the islands’ major deve­lopers candidly admitted what many of us have long claimed. The Planning Authority has been rendered irrelevant and if one wants a project to move forward one must talk directly to politicians.

This deference to politicians, and all the risks this entails, is precisely what the 1990 Development Planning Act, and the Planning Authority, was intended to break away from. But this objective has failed.

It failed because both politicians and their constituents did not like the loss of leverage; politicians need to appear to ‘serve’ their constituents’ requirements and constituents to feel that they can refer to somebody whatever they cannot legitimately obtain within planning rules. Planning rules were diluted, one by one, under the guise of ‘reducing bureaucracy’.

It is now acknowledged that greed is ‘uglifying’ our landscape; that we must now shift from the dependency on the construction industry to boost our GDP. When 85 per cent of respondents say that there is too much development, it is obvious that politicians must make the environment their electoral priority.

One wonders how this ambition sits with those who believe that we need to continue to build for the next 100 years, at the rate we have been doing for the last eight years. Will they understand this new political vision and back out  or will there still be politicians who believe that their role is to serve the individual rather than the community?

The reference to the Jerma Palace project in the afore-mentioned interview made the whole sordid cycle of current planning processes clear. As was admitted, the process is that the developer goes to the politicians and expounds his vision for a project, in this case for the redevelopment of the Jerma site.

The politicians duly instruct the Planning Authority to prepare a development brief, in this case, first for 100,000 square-metres of development, an arbitrary number, without any scientific basis, except, probably, developer profit.  After a pseudo ‘public’ consultation, this is ‘reduced’ to 60,000 square metres, (which, incidentally, is still double the volume of the original Jerma concession). The ‘new’ development brief is then brought to the scrutiny of the parliamentary committee, which duly approves it. The politicians formally go through the motions of approving what they asked the Planning Authority to do, which was what the developer asked for.

Marsascala was also the target of another ‘planning’ decision. The pre-qualification questionnaire related to the proposed ‘environmentally-friendly’ Marsascala yacht marina was published during the same week when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its dire Sixth Assessment Report. The tender glibly outlined extensive dredg­ing and land reclamation, as if these activities were the most environmentally friendly activities in the world.

It is now acknowledged that greed is ‘uglifying’ our landscape- Alex Torpiano

Following the widespread negative reaction to the publication of the relative plans, Transport Malta rebutted that it was only putting into effect planning decisions taken previously and enshrined in the 2006 local plans. A comparison between the published tender schematic and the local plan MS 1 Marsascala-north policy map will show that the proposed extent of the marina goes significantly beyond the limit indicated in the local plan map.

And the reference to policy SMMS 04 should have drawn attention to paragraph 18.4.5. This states that the yachting subject study undertaken in fact highlighted the Marsascala site as “an unlikely one” for a yacht marina in view of the “exposure of this area to winds and seas from the east and severe reflective wave problems during onshore winds”. The authors of the study went on to point out that the site “may not be attractive to international yachters”. So much for the ambition to boost tourism in the south!

More importantly, the local plan demanded detailed studies to “ensure the overall feasibility of the project and iden­tify the main problems for a marina in this area and suggest any mitigation measures that may need to be implemented to avoid significant environmental impacts” (for example, the construction of a breakwater). Does the local plan not require, therefore, that these studies be at hand before any tenders are published?

The reference to the 2006 local plan was indeed misguided. Since then, the strategic plan for the environment and development was published, with the unfulfilled expectation that the local plans would be amended to conform with SPED requirements. A first revision of SPED has now been embarked upon, which will take at least another two years to see the light.

In the meantime, of course, no amended local plans are likely to be published.

The local plans are clearly past their due date and inconsistent reference to the local plans has now diluted their legitimacy (for example, when the ex-national waterpolo pitch site was given away to AUM and when a new water polo facility was dumped into the middle of the bay).

Transport Malta also highlighted the fact that the marina concession would be worth €184 million over a five-year period and, therefore, nudge, nudge, people, we will all make money.

The question is, therefore,  legitimate. Who are we planning for? Perhaps, as we are moving into the phase of pre-election promises, the competing parties could expound to us their vision of who they would make planning for. We deserve it.

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