Muscat insists ‘crazy’ ODZ boundaries must be redrawn

Muscat says ODZ boundaries must be redrawn, but green NGOs insist local plans must not be touched  for now

Malta's political leaders at a debate organised by environmental NGOs
Malta's political leaders at a debate organised by environmental NGOs

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat suggested today that a new Labour government will revise the development zone boundaries, but without decreasing the total area of land classified as non-developable (ODZ).

Speaking at a debate organised by environmental NGOs this morning, Muscat said that some of the boundaries drawn up by the revised local plans in 2006 were “crazy” and must be redesigned. However, he insisted that any extension of development zones will be compensated by extending ODZ zones elsewhere, arguing that “some sites are simply too beautiful to be left open for construction”.

“It is not within the government’s plan to expand any development zones, and if there is any change it should be in terms of compensation for the environment,” he said. “There are some areas that are too beautiful to be kept inside developable zones.”    

MaltaToday reported in January that the government is under intense pressure from aggrieved landowners who were left out of the 2006 rationalisation, to have their lands included in development zones – a move that would appreciate the value of their land.

In line with the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED), the government has hinted that it will render privately owned ODZ land developable, while compensating by adding public land to the ODZ boundaries.

Indeed, former parliamentary secretary for planning Michael Falzon had justified tweaking the ODZ boundaries by accusing the former PN government of being “creative” in including certain lands, but not others. His justification echoed that of George Pullicino’s back in 2006, who justified the rationalization as an attempt to rectify anomalies created by the 1988 temporary boundaries.

Green NGOs put off local plan revisions, end to finch trapping

At the debate, the coalition of 12 green NGOs presented political parties with a list of environmental recommendations, including to postpone any revision of Malta’s local plans until at least 2026, which would make it 20 years since the last such revision.

They also called for a complete overhaul of the 2014 rural policy and design policies, which they warned are full of development loopholes.

“Any new petrol station approved for an ODZ are should not have ancillary facilities such as a car wash and a showroom,” they said. “No net uptake of ODZ land through the publication of any revised local plans should be contemplated. All large-scale ODZ development should be subjected to approval to a two-third parliamentary majority and to the condition that an equivalent developable parcel of land becomes ODZ. The need for small-scale ODZ development such as reservoirs and tool rooms should be fully justified by applicants with ERA and with eNGOs with permits being withdrawn within the first year in case of abuse of permit conditions.”

The NGOs also called for an end on the current derogation on finch trapping, which they warned has caused extensive environmental damage, and for the establishment of a Wildlife Crime Unit within the police force to clamp down on illegal hunting and trapping.

Other notable proposals include renewed afforestation on public land, designating roads exclusively for cyclers and pedestrians, enforcing the separation of all waste at homes, drafting a National Water Management Plan, properly labeling all GMO foods, safeguarding the Valletta and Cittadella skylines, and forbidding Parliament from approving major construction works before environmental studies have been carried out. 

Simon Busuttil said that most of their proposals have already been included in the PN's environment policy document last year, and will be included in the party's election manifesto. 

The NGOs who drafted the proposal are: Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, BirdLife Malta, Friends of the Earth, Gaia Foundation, Nature Trust, Slow Food Malta, Ramblers’ Associaton, Ghaqda Bajja San Tumas, Noise Abatement Society of Malta, TerraFirma Collective, and Malta Water Association.