Neither Labour nor PN has any ‘environmental credibility’

Truth be told, neither actually possess any of the ‘environmental credibility’ they both now boast about. But there is still a chance that they might, in future

Reading through the manifestos published by the two main parties, one thing becomes increasingly clear.

Whether it is a simple case of ‘greenwashing’, to appeal to voters who are more concerned with environmental issues; or whether it really does represent a genuine (albeit belated) commitment to actually improve Malta’s track record, on environmental issues: there can be no doubt that – on paper, at least - both Labour and Nationalist Parties have finally awoken to the importance of ‘The Environment’, as a national issue.

Despite having both arguably neglected this sector, whenever they were in government themselves; both are now trying to convince the electorate that they are (in Bernard Grech’s words, last September) ‘the only party that’s credible on the environment’.

And if we were to judge those claims, only by the multitudinous environmental proposals contained in their respective manifestos: it must be said that Malta’s future does indeed look a little ‘Greener’, than its present (and even more so, than its recent past).

Indeed, both manifestos are awash with attractive ‘green’ proposals. Labour’s flagship environmental promise remains an ambitious  €700 million investment – incidentally, the same amount allocated for road building in the previous legislature -for the creation of new open spaces.

The PN, on the other hand, has vowed that 50,000 sq.m of land presently within development zones, will be added to ODZ.

Likewise, both parties seem suddenly cognisant of the appalling damage inflicted to Malta and Gozo’s traditional built environment, after decades of planning abuses. Labour proposes introducing buffer zones around Urban Conservation Areas, to create a transition between village cores and the rest of the urban area; as well as a skyline policy, to create a balance between the need for higher buildings and the identity of towns and villages.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Miriam Pace’s death in a brutal construction incident in 2020, the PN’s firmest commitments are geared towards protecting residents by obliging contractors to provide alternative accommodation to residents impacted by excavations; and to deposit money in a bank account which can be immediately released to make up for damage to neighbouring properties.

These are but a few of the instances where Malta’s main political parties are now paying considerably more attention than ever before, to an environmental situation that is ultimately (it must be said) of their own making.

But as environmentalist Alan Deidun observed in a recent opinion article: “When it comes to green promises, the devil is in the detail”. For even if Labour and PN have, at least, made a commendable effort to reflect growing popular concerns, on a number of key issues, it remains a fact that their myriad proposals are often at best vague; and at worst, downright impractical.

For instance: both parties have conspicuously stopped short of any commitment to replace local plans approved by the Gonzi administration in 2006; or to repeal the disastrous policies approved by Labour after 2013 (which contributed to an onslaught of 5-storey blocks in most urban areas, including Gozo.)

In Labour’s case, this seems to contradict the substance of some of its own policies. For by proposing transitional buffer zones around village cores, Labour may actually manage to limit development in the most sensitive areas. But then, its own success would nullify the Prime Minister’s argument that ‘changing local plans to reduce building heights’ could trigger compensation claims by owners.

Creating transitional areas around UCAs will surely have the same impact; and if the fear of civil lawsuits is enough to deter the government from changing the 2006 local Plans, it should be enough to halt this proposal in its tracks, too.

Elsewhere, the PN is commitment to increase ODZ land by 50,000 sq.m a year is certainly attractive, on paper; but this exercise is limited only to publicy owned land and will not impact private lands which are considerably at greater risk of being developed.

Again, Deidun makes the point succinctly: “such proposals are positive, [but] they are ineffective in addressing the relentless loss of ODZ land to development on these islands. It’s a parrot’s secret, in fact, that the bane of ODZ areas on these islands is their piecemeal destruction (‘one blow at a time’) through the unremitting submission and approval, in many cases, of development applications on the same areas by Joe Citizen”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither Labour nor PN offers anything of substance, that would address the many, many such loopholes that still pervade Malta’s entire Planning regime.

Equally unsurprisingly, there is only one political party contesting this election – ADPD – which is fully committed to change local plans, and to reverse the extension of building boundaries of 2006. 

As such, the most that can be said for Labour and PN’s recent environmental commitments is that – while it remains a welcome change, in that they are now at last attuned with the existence of these problems – it will take more than a few attractive (but vague) promises, to bring about the ‘Green revolution’ both are now promising.

Truth be told, neither actually possess any of the ‘environmental credibility’ they both now boast about. But there is still a chance that they might, in future.