Could European Landscape Convention limit the way Maltese villages are changing?

After 20 years Malta set to ratify European Landscape Convention, obliging signatories to protect their landscapes – a body of law that could put limits on the way Maltese villages are being changed

The European Landscape Convention obliges signatories not just to protect protected heritage buildings but to respect the wider cultural landscapes and the collective memories of people who inhabit them
The European Landscape Convention obliges signatories not just to protect protected heritage buildings but to respect the wider cultural landscapes and the collective memories of people who inhabit them

The Environment and Resources Authority has been tasked with spearheading the process leading to the ratification of the Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention, MaltaToday has learned.

Malta was one of the original signatories of the convention in 2000 but 20 years on, Malta has yet to ratify the convention.

Malta is the last among the original 39 signatories to not have ratified the convention as of yet. Iceland, the only other remaining country not to have ratified it for the longest time, finally did so last year.

MaltaToday is informed that the ratification of the convention requires changes to legislation, policies and organisational structures particularly in the planning, environmental and cultural heritage sectors. For this aim, a compatibility review of national legislation and the convention is being carried out.

The European Landscape Convention obliges signatories to protect their landscapes – a body of law that could put limits on the way Maltese villages are being changed.

The Convention is considered revolutionary as it recognises that local, everyday and even degraded landscapes are as likely to be of importance to the communities – or cultures – who inhabit them or the people who visit them as those which are commonly labelled as globally important.

Parties to the Convention undertake to provide legal recognition for the value of landscapes, to ensure that participatory procedures are put in place to establish and implement protective policies, and that landscape is integrated into land-use planning policies.

Moreover, committees of experts appointed by the Council of Europe are “responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention”.

The European Landscape Convention obliges signatories not just to protect protected heritage buildings but to respect the wider cultural landscapes and the collective memories of people who inhabit them.

In its reaction to various proposed developments, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage often calls on the PA to ensure that its decisions are “guided by the principles enshrined in the European Landscape Convention”.

In 2004 the Planning Authority had taken steps to fulfil the requirements of the Convention by conducting a landscape assessment study which had identified that over 51% of the Maltese Islands had high or very high landscape sensitivity. This led to the designation of more areas in Malta as “Areas of Landscape Value”.

But experts still noted shortcomings when it came to broadening landscape management and protection with regards to seascapes and “everyday and degraded” landscapes.

The Catalan region is regarded as a model for legislation triggered by the convention.

Four years after signing the convention, the Catalan parliament approved a law for the protection, management and planning of the landscape. A Landscape Observatory has been set up as an advisory body of the Government of Catalonia in landscape matters. The Observatory has issued landscape catalogues which identify different landscapes including neighbourhoods with particular characteristics. This was done following public consultation with the people living in these landscapes. The protection of these landscapes is integrated in the region’s town and planning regulations.

More in Townscapes