MEPA's new structure plan 'reflects government's policies'

MEPA discusses land reclamation, among other themes, in its Strategic Plan for Environment and Development

MEPA today launched the ‘Strategic Plan for Environment and Development’ (SPED), which the authority's chairman said “goes beyond the existing structure plan which was adopted in 1992.”

The plan presents new challenges, MEPA chairman Vince Cassar said, adding that it “reflects government's environmental policies.” The consultation process on the draft plan ends in May and the authority will present its final proposal to government a month later.

Parliamentary secretary Michael Farrugia noted that SPED will provide government guidelines and a direction on the country's changing economic and social landscape.

However, he added that the plan would also take into consideration government's targets such as making Malta a maritime and aviation hub.

“SPED includes the government's objectives,” Farrugia said, adding that other policies introduced by government will not be overlooked.

SPED deals with generic policies regulating development on both land and sea, and sets the framework for any revision of the local plans and other more specific policies.

But instead of waiting for the finalisation of the structure plan revision, the current administration decided to reduce the present seven local plans to three generic plans.

Farrugia insisted that “SPED is not a local plan” but a policy which provides the country with a direction in development and environmental protection.

The draft plan also proposes minor adjustments to the 2006 development zone boundaries and making better use of previously developed land on Comino for tourism and recreational use.

Transport, climate change, Gozo and economic growth are among the themes the new structure plan deals with. However under the Labour administration, MEPA has also decided to create new planning policies on various themes, ranging from fireworks establishments and agritourism to petrol stations.

MEPA official Joseph Gauci said that the plan has been three years in the making and stressed that SPED is a framework policy on the use of land and sea.

The national spatial framework provides an integrated spatial dimension for government's policy, Gauci said.

He added that the plan extends MEPA's jurisdiction from the current 12 nautical miles of the coast to 25 nautical miles.

Coastal areas

Despite initial reluctance, MEPA has accepted the recommendation by planning ombudsman David Pace for a specific framework regulating the development of the coast and surrounding seas.

This should ensure that any land reclamation project would be subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as required by EU law.

The draft plan proposes that recreational use of coastal and marine areas should remain a priority.

“The principle of public access in coastal and marine areas will remain, including in land reclamation,” Farrugia said, stressing that the law will be enforced.

Coastal and marine areas are a recognised component of the spatial structure of the Maltese islands, recognised in the objectives issued in 2012 for the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development.

Land reclamation

Land reclamation is one of the plan's priorities and Farrugia said the plan does not exclude any locations but in principle SPED says that land reclamation projects would “support socio-economic growth.”

The parliamentary secretary added that for this reason, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will be held to determine the environmental and socio-economic impact of such principles.

21 land reclamation proposals will see a government committee evaluating a new series of mega-projects that range from a motorsport racing track, to floating villages, business centres and hotel resorts.

Bidders for land reclamation projects signed a confidentiality agreement in which they acknowledged the government's discretion as to whether or not it issues a competitive tender after the initial bids are analysed by the Government Property Division.

They had to pay a €5,000 fee for the expression of interest, and were bound by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information contained in the EOI documents to third parties for the next three years.