And for its next trick, the PA will make ODZ disappear… forever!

The emphasis is once again – juts like in 2006 - on ‘minimising’ the gargantuan scale of this reform… by suggesting that, in practice, it would really affect just a limited number of private households

Out of curiosity: has TVM’s online news portal decided to compete with Bloomberg, for coming up with the most ‘famously bizarre and inscrutable headlines’ in media history?

If so, I feel I have to warn the national broadcaster that it faces some pretty serious competition. After all, Bloomberg enjoys a much-cherished reputation, for teasing its readers with spectacularly mind-boggling headlines – such as, for instance:

‘Feeding Naked Chef’s Chickens Killing Biggest Bond Rally’

‘Harvard Women Freed From Urinal 50 Years After First Female MBA’

‘DSM’s Flirt With Red Hot Mamas Cuts Investor Love for Plastics’, and (my own personal favourite)

‘Giraffe Mulling Suicide, as Terrorists Chant in Cairo’

Indeed, Bloomberg’s penchant for such gobbledygook is so widely-known, it has even inspired a blog called ‘Strange Bloomberg Headlines’ (which helpfully explains that: “The headlines usually make sense once you’ve read the article…”)

But still: ‘’ got off to a flying start, in this race towards the truly bizarre and incomprehensible. This, for instance, was how it reported a recent announcement by the Planning Authority, about an imminent revision of the country’s planning and development regulations [Note: and if I feel compelled to explain, from now, what the news story was actually about … well, it’s because you’d never have guessed, just from the headline.]

‘Proposals to marginally amplify the lack of conformity on development regulations’…

Huh? Who? What? Where? Honestly, though… what is any of that even supposed to mean, anyway?

Well: like that blog had suggested earlier, it does make a tiny bit more sense when you read the rest of the article. And the more you read AROUND this particularly story: you’ll find that it might actually make even more sense, than TVM itself originally intended.

So let’s take a closer look. The first thing we are told is that: “The Government has requested the Planning Authority to propose amendments to Regulations on the Regularisation of Existing Development”; then a little further down: “The Authority is now proposing to amend the regulations so that existing unsanctioned and not in conformity developments […] may also be considered for regularisation”; and lastly: “the regularisation of developments with an existing enforcement notice by the Authority before 2016.”

In other words: the Planning Authority has just announced that it fully intends to crumble under the pressure of some 19,500 private land-owners, who:

a) own properties that are partially – and illegally - developed on ODZ land;

b) have successfully lobbied with government to extend the (already contentious) 2016 Local Plans revision, to also cover their own, ‘not-in-conformity’ properties, and;

c) would – if these amendments go through - be able to safely ignore any existing PA enforcement notices, regarding their illegal developments.

Naturally, the State broadcaster chose to word all that slightly differently – and fair enough; it’s an editorial decision, at the end of the day - but it’s all undeniably there (at least, once you get past all the barricades of sheer gobbledygook, that were clearly designed to disguise it).

What we are NOT told, on the other hand, is… well, all the details that would later emerge from the statements of NGOs such as Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar:

> That the Planning Authority itself had cited, as its main justification for these amendments, that: “certain property owners are not able to place on the market, or acquire a bank loan for their property, due to an irregularity which is non sanctionable, and took place before 2016.” (Prompting FAA’s Astrid Vella to retort, quite justifiably, that: “Since when is it the Planning Authority’s remit to help private businesses in the property market? Its function is to ensure that developers fall in line with policies meant to safeguard the environment…”)

> At just 14 days, the consultations period was far too short to conform with with either the Aarhus Convention, or European Union transparency rules (or any of the other international conventions that Maltese governments are always so eager to ratify… only to routinely infringe, at every opportunity.)

> And above all, that a planning policy overhaul of this magnitude – which would effectively consign the entire concept of ODZ (not to mention ‘enforcement orders’) to the Planning Authority scrapheap, once and for all -  must, by international law, be subject to a ‘Strategic Environmental Assessment’, at minimum.

Now: if I place such emphasis on the last of those considerations, it is not so much because Malta can be seen to be – once again – in breach of Europe’s most basic environmental protection laws (not to mention its own). No, it’s more because the need for an SEA also highlights the sheer scale of this latest revision of Local Plans: which portends, among other things, the instantaneous, retro-active sanctioning of anywhere up to 19,500 illegal developments[!], all of which encroach upon ODZ areas.

Leaving aside all the other questions that automatically arise: like, um, who actually owns all those illegally-developed properties, anyway? Who stands to benefit most, from this extraordinarily generous ‘blanket amnesty’? And is there is any truth to the ongoing rumours, that among the 19,500 applicants are certain ‘high-ranking government officials’…?

Even without any of that, however: these proposed amendments still constitute the single largest extension of the building zones, since the infamous 2006 ‘rationalisation scheme’ (and its more recent ‘revision’ in 2016.)

And yet: how did that TVM headline go again? ‘Proposals to MARGINALLY [my emphasis] AMPLIFY THE LACK OF CONFORMITY [my emphasis, again] on development regulations’…

See what I mean, about ‘making more sense’ than the news portal originally intended? For starters, the word ‘marginally’ is uncomfortably reminiscent of former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s own justification, for originally extending the development boundaries back in 2006. (Remember? He had argued that ‘people were caught up in a legal anomaly’; and that the extension would ‘do justice with those people’.)

More significantly still, it also echoes the Malta Developers Association’s more recent reaction to the same proposals: which was to say that “thousands of families cannot regularise their only property, and whilst MDA is sensitive to the needs of these families, it will therefore be backing the legal notice…”

As you can see, the emphasis is once again – juts like in 2006 - on ‘minimising’ the gargantuan scale of this reform… by suggesting that, in practice, it would really affect just a limited number of private households.

But then - literally in the next few words – the same headline goes on to (unwittingly) assert the very opposite: by stating, quite correctly, that this reform will also ‘AMPLIFY’ the existing lack of conformity.

And it’s true, you know. Not only in the sense that these amendments would de facto translate into literally tens of thousands of existing properties being ‘sanctioned’, even when facing an enforcement order (which incidentally also nullifies the whole point of even issuing ‘enforcement orders’, at all…)

… but also because it would – just like in 2006 – fire a starter-pistol, for yet another mad scramble to buy even more ODZ land: either because the properties ‘abut onto the existing development zone’ – which, with the latest amendments in place, would make them ‘instantly developable’ – or because the buyers suspect (no doubt rightly) that similar revisions, in future, would enable them to eventually develop even land which is entirely within ODZ, for now.

And what is that, if not the effective dismantling of the entire point of even having an ‘Outside Development Zone’ area, to begin with?

So there you have it, I suppose: the significance of my own, equally ‘bizarre and inscrutable’ choice of headline, above…