ERA wanted power of veto on applications outside development zones

Environment and Resources Authority formally asked for veto powers but 

A MaltaToday probe in 2016 had revealed that the ERA had objected to 69% of applications outside the development zones (ODZ) approved by Planning Authority
A MaltaToday probe in 2016 had revealed that the ERA had objected to 69% of applications outside the development zones (ODZ) approved by Planning Authority

The Environment and Resources Authority formally asked for veto powers on developments in rural areas in submissions to new PA rules, but was not taken up in the new rural policy guidelines issued for public consultation.

The new draft policy still goes a long way in plugging loopholes denounced by the ERA for having created “unacceptable impacts” in the Maltese countryside.

A MaltaToday probe in 2016 had revealed that the ERA had objected to 69% of applications outside the development zones (ODZ) approved by Planning Authority.

In its submissions on the new policy, ERA presented a radical proposal addressing this major shortcoming – namely that all development applications with the rural area should be subject to “its clearance prior to the issuing” of any permit.

The aim of this proposal is to ensure that “environmental considerations are intrinsically integrated in the development control process”.

“ERA believes that all development related applications within the Rural Area should be subject to its clearance prior to the issuing of any development consent.”

A similar proposal to give ERA more say in the determination of ODZ applications was made by planning ombudsman David Pace in 2017.

Pace had proposed changes to legislation to ensure that applications that are objected to by the ERA, are not approved by the PA unless the grounds for these objections are effectively addressed, and the necessary amendments are made to the proposed project.

But this proposal has not been inserted in the first draft of the redrafted policy issued for public consultation.

In its reply to ERA’s submission, the Planning Authority said that the role of ERA as one of the “statutory consultees” in the processing of all applications including those in rural areas is already regulated by law. The law at present obliges the PA to consult with ERA but gives the latter no veto powers.

But while the proposal to give ERA veto powers was not included in the first draft, most other proposals made by ERA were included in the policy update.

Following recommendations by ERA and environmental NGOs, the new policy excludes ruins and makeshift structures from the definition of existing buildings. Moreover, the new policy does not permit the building of new countryside accommodation facilities for agritourism. As suggested by ERA, the policy adopts 1967 as the cut-off date for legally established buildings instead of 1978, as is the case today.

In its submissions, ERA has also presented a strong case to protect buffer zones to areas of ecological importance.

Most safeguards in the 2015 policy were only accorded to areas covered by the strictest levels of protection (Level 1 and Level 2 scheduled areas only), undermining any protection accorded to buffer zones to these sites, especially those accorded Level 3 protection.

Significantly, the new policy includes “buffer zones” in its definition of scheduled areas where many developments foreseen in the new policy cannot be allowed. The policy includes a “general presumption against development which is likely to have an adverse impact, whether directly or indirectly, on scheduled or protected sites.”

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