'ERA not toothless, but can be strengthened further' – minister

Environment minister Jose Herrera replies to claim by the environment ombudsman who described the authority as “powerless, toothless and of no influence”

Environment minister Jose HerreraJose Herrera
Environment minister Jose HerreraJose Herrera

Although the Environmental and Resources Authority (ERA) was still in its infancy, but no one could deny that the environment was today much better represented than ever before, according to environment minister Jose Herrera.

In a statement issued Friday in reply to statements carried in a letter sent to him and to parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri, by the Commissioner for the Environment and Planning, Herrera said the government was willing to listen to any proposal on how to improve and strengthen the ERA.

In his letter to Herrera and Schembri, Architect David Pace said he feared for the transparent operation of the system and 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.”

Herrera said it was not true that ERA could only attend meetings of the Planning Authority’s executive council when invited by the PA’s executive chairperson.

“On the contrary, Chapter 555 of the Planning and Development Act clearly states that ERA would have two members on the executive council and that the PA’s executive chairperson had to ensure that they attended any meetings that discussed policy, protection orders or applications for the control of development,” he said.

Herrera said it was imperative that ERA’s governance be strengthened, albeit not at the detriment of other authorities.

“The environment can be best protected through sustainable development, that would guarantee a better quality of life for everyone,” he said.

He said the opposition should not try to undermine an authority that was providing such a positive service to the country.

Herrera said he could not understand how the opposition was criticising this government for its policy on high-rise development, when that policy was drawn up under the previous administration.

This government had drastically reduced the number of localities where high-rise development could be permitted and had also introduced a number of safeguards, like having free, public open spaces part of any high-rise development.

Parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri
Parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri

Deborah Schembri, parliamentary secretary for planning, said that the government had broadened the remit of what had previously been MEPA’s Environment Directorate into a fully-independent Environment and Resources Authority.

Like Pace, the governmen believed that there should be a system of checks and balances in place within the administrative and procedural structures on both authorities.

Schembri said that, contrary to previous practice, ERA was represented on PA’s executive council, where the planning policies were drawn up and also had a representative on the PA board, which approves, or denies, development applications.

ERA could now also appeal and permit application approval issued by the PA.

Schembri said she could understand how Pace had concluded that ERA could only attend meetings when invited by PA’s executive chairperson.

The PA chairperson was, in fact, duty-bound to ensure that the two ERA representatives on the executive council be present when discussing policy-related issues, she said.

She said the government could also not accept Pace’s declaration that the PA did not have to seriously consider ERA’s stance when making its decisions, when Article 72(2) of the Planning and Development Act made it clear that the recommendations by boards, committees and consultants – and therefore, ERA too – be given the same consideration by the PA as it afforded its plans, policies and regulations.

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