Environment Ombudsman decries 'toothless' ERA in letter to Minister

Environment Commissioner, architect David Pace, has called for the granting of increased powers to the ERA saying it 'has emerged to be powerless, toothless and with no influence, if not to say entirely irrelevant to decisions' when it comes to processing PA development applications

The planning authority's ombudsman David Pace
The planning authority's ombudsman David Pace

The Commissioner for the Environment and Planning has called on the Government to  strengthen the Environmental and Resource Authority, saying that at present, the newly-created ERA was “powerless, toothless and of no influence.”

In a letter addressed to the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change Jose Herrera and Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Simplification of Administrative processes Deborah Schembri, Architect David Pace said he feared for the transparent operation of the system.

Referring to a letter he had sent last month, he said that he had pointed out the split could result in conflicting strategies and had insisted that the Environment and Resource Authority should always be present on the Planning Authority's executive council, as opposed to this being contingent on the invitation of the executive Chairman.

“It is my conviction that in an already developed country like Malta, environmental considerations should have, at least, the same weight as those about planning. Decisions about planning should be conditioned by environmental considerations.”

This was reflected in the official aims of the demerger, expressed by Government, he said.

“My recent experience in the practical implementation of the law shows the exact opposite. The ERA has emerged to be powerless, toothless and with no influence, if not to say entirely irrelevant to decisions” when it comes to processing PA development applications. The ERA was also inefficient and unprepared to exercise “even its limited functions.”

Pace railed against the giving a given project's environmental aspect secondary importance, adding that the granting of permission could be decided exclusively on development considerations, without the PA being obliged to give serious consideration to the ERA's opinion.

“On the one hand therefore you have strong Planning Authority with the power to dispense with environmental concerns...and on the other hand a weak Environmental Resources Authority that...has only one vote from an executive panel of 14, most of whom are government appointees.”

The architect suggested several measures to ensure greater transparency and public scrutiny, including the addition of the ERA's opinion in the publicly available documentation and not just a reference to it, as is the current practice.

He urged the Minister to create a balance between the two authorities' powers aimed at ensuring “every development in the country is conditioned and guided by environmental requirements, dictated by the common good and not private or market interests.”

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