Citizens could be compensated for suing public domain law-breakers

Environment minister reveals plans to incentivise citizens to sue those who restrict public access to foreshore  

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
14 July 2017, 10:18am
Citizens who report breaches of the new public domain law, which safeguards public access to the foreshore and other sites, could be compensated for their troubles.

Labour had pledged in its electoral manifesto to include a clause in the law that would empower all citizens to report people who restrict public access to sites that have been declared as public domain.

Now environment minister Jose Herrera has told MaltaToday that the government is considering compensating such citizens if the court rules in their favour, as a means of incentivising environmental activism.

The citizen will either be compensated directly by the law-breaker him/herself or by a new government fund that will be set up for that purpose.

“I had promised in our manifesto that any Tom, Dick or Harry who spots an infringement of the principles of the public domain law can, out of their own initiative, sue the authority or individual concerned,” Herrera said. “We are now considering whether these citizens should be compensated if the court rules in their favour. The compensation could be paid by either the law-breaker or from a state fund.”

The law, which was passed unanimously in Parliament last year, automatically includes the first 15 metres of coastline as being part of the public domain, meaning that the public should have access to it.

Other sites can be included in that list, and indeed the Planning Authority last week released for public consultation a list of 24 proposed public domain sites – including the Nwadar nature park, a site at Manoel Island, a site at Kalanka in Delimara, and at Hondoq in Qala.

The law is not retroactive, meaning that the courts will have no power to take action on restricted access to public domain sites before they were declared as such.

Herrera added that the law does not prohibit all sorts of development on public domain sites, but rather forces applicants to pass through a more rigorous and transparent process.

“I can’t just up and say that there shouldn’t be any development at all in certain areas, because circumstances are constantly being dictated by the realities of the time,” he said.

Herrera ‘agrees in principle’ with plans to privatise coastline

Indeed, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi last month announced plans to privatise part of the coastline between Sliema and Pembroke and develop them into new beaches.

These include the site of the former Chalet in Sliema, which Mizzi has pledged will remain free to the public but transformed into a “top-class” bathing site so as to render it more appealing to tourists.

Questioned by MaltaToday, Herrera said he agrees in principle with the plans.

“I’m not against privatisation as I believe that it should be the private sector that drives the economy,” he said. “I haven’t seen Konrad Mizzi’s plans and there should be proper impact studies on them, but in principle I am in favour of privatisation when done in a transparent and careful manner.”

The environment minister added that the Chalet proposal shouldn’t prove controversial, as it had already been run by a private company back in its heyday.

He added that he would personally like to see another chalet built on the site, with the décor a throwback to that of its iconic predecessor.