Creating new natural parks, while destroying Zonqor

How credible is this government in seeking to designate new natural parks, when the Prime Minister gives instructions to MEPA’s not-so-independent CEO, to consider Zonqor as the ideal site for the construction of a new “American University”

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

This week Parliament started debating the Spatial Plan for Environment and Development – the bible of all planning law in this country. The SPED is as such the most important planning document of all, as it is the mother of all subsidiary plans and policies. It is therefore obvious, that if the SPED is unsuitable, all the rest is pretty much unsuitable too. The SPED is set to replace the Structure Plan, the planning bible which has served us for the past 20 years or so, since 1992. 

Water reserves

The SPED lacks and fails to preserve and restore current natural reserves, in particular water resources. The Malta Water Association made a number of submissions, with hardly any having been considered or included. Malta has one of the highest Water Stress Indexes, and something ought to be done. If we continue to extract unlimited quantities from the water table, water quality will continue to deteriorate, rendering it inadequate. 

At the same time, we must offer farmers sustainable alternatives which are financially feasible and not dependent on unlimited water extraction. Being an island state poses significant challenges to ensure that sufficient amounts of water are available. Furthermore, an island with high temperatures poses even greater challenges, requiring higher amounts of water provision. That a planning and environment vision fails to address such an essential challenge is ample proof that the SPED will not provide a worthy replacement to the current Structure Plan. 

Designation of new natural parks… while destroying present ones!

One of the amendments presented by the government during this week’s parliamentary debate was the designation of new natural parks. One cannot argue against the inclusion of such an amendment, but how credible is this at this point in time when the Zonqor natural park is under threat of being annihilated? This amendment is rich coming from a Labour government. 

How credible is this government in seeking to designate new natural parks, when the Prime Minister gives instructions to MEPA’s not-so-independent CEO, to consider Zonqor as the ideal site for the construction of a new “American University”. This government can only be credible if it amends this proposal by adding the words “and preserving designated natural parks”.

Interim period

It is obvious that any planning bible should come first, and all other policies and plans should follow. This has not been the case. We have seen a substantial number of policies introduced first, and the overarching vision coming last. Let’s not be fooled however. This was essential for a government whose electoral promises were heavily weighing on it with the passage of days, weeks and months. 

It is obvious that this government doesn’t give a hoot about our vision for planning and environment. Its primary objective is to satisfy the hunger of votes which have been endlessly promised. This did not require a vision. It required sectorial policies, such that the hunger is seen to without further delay. Now that that has been accomplished, the government has found time to dedicate to the vision. 

Plagiarism is easy, but gets you nowhere

The government has tried very hard to convince us that a substantial effort has been made to provide a vision that will serve us for the next 20 years. During this week’s parliamentary debate, I have revealed that no effort whatsoever has in truth been made. In 2012, MEPA, under a Nationalist administration, delivered a set of objectives aimed at providing a starting point for a fully-fledged planning and environment vision. It was a 30-page document aimed at directing the process, which would have eventually led to a foolproof legislative framework with a clear set of policies which removed loopholes or areas subject to interpretation. 

When a few months back, the MEPA board was presented with the “SPED”, it sounded all too familiar. Indeed, the government simply turned the set of objectives into a vision, by simply changing the front page. It was the same 30-page document published by MEPA in 2012, with a new front cover, edited slightly to suit Labour’s pro-development political agenda. The few changes include the introduction of land reclamation, changes to the development zones, and the possibility of introducing LNG to make way for the Delimara gas tanker. 

No effort whatsoever has been undertaken, so much so that the first and last sentence of both documents are identical. 

What a pity. What a wonderful exercise of plagiarism though. University lecturers should use this example as a case study when teaching students about plagiarism. In the meantime, we will have to accept the fact that Labour has no planning and environment vision whatsoever. This will come at a cost and the next generation will have to pay the price for today’s incompetence.