A planning process that is not hijacked by vested interests is of paramount importance if the country is to pursue the route to sustainable development for the benefit of current and future generations, the Church’s Environment Commission (KA) said.

In a statement issued on the occasion of World Town Planning Day, being celebrated on Friday, KA said that, for many years, it had advocated the holistic review of local plans.

But the adopted approach had been to review them in a piecemeal fashion resulting in uncertainty as to what the cumulative impacts of the changes would be on local communities and the national heritage.

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As if this was not damaging enough, masterplans for certain areas, such as Paceville, were shelved and large-scale development was still being given the green light. Such development had the potential to compromise irreversibly the vision for a region which should be drawn up with the full involvement of the communities of that region.

KA said it was surprised by the government’s misgivings on certain decisions taken by Planning Commissions and its efforts to distance itself from them by claiming that such commissions were independent. 

The government, KA said, was part and parcel of the process as no plan or policy was effective unless approved by the government. 

The commission also pointed out that some stakeholders, who were more equal than others, benefitted from hesitancy in reviewing policy. Policy-making, it said, should aim to achieve the common good.

Many times, this required positive discrimination towards vulnerable sectors and the environment. This also means not giving undue weight to arguments put forward by narrow-interest groups that had no regard for the common good. 

The KA said it was surprising that planners within the Planning Authority were not in charge of reviewing the 2014 Rural Policy and Design Guidance policy. It was strange that this policy, not originally drawn up by planners, was now, once again, being reviewed by non-planners. Were there no skills available in the PA to carry out such a review, it asked. 

The country, KA said, needed more planners who could engage in a meaningful manner with other professions, the politicians and the public and be able to point out to decision-makers the implications of various policy options that were available. 

The KA wondered how the review of the 2014 Rural Policy and Design Guidance was to be carried out in a matter of weeks when the objectives were still out for public consultation.

It appealed to reviewers not to be unduly influenced by stakeholders who had a narrow interest and who seemed to be more relevant to the authorities.

When shaping the urban and natural environments for current and future generations, the state could not discriminate between citizens, as if they were first- and second-rate.