No revision of development zones in ‘foreseeable future’, minister says

A spokesperson for planning minister Ian Borg told MaltaToday the government will not be changing the development boundaries last enlarged in 2006, in the “foreseeable” future

“The revision of the local plan is a long and laborious process and the authorities will continue their work in this regard,” the government spokesperson confirmed
“The revision of the local plan is a long and laborious process and the authorities will continue their work in this regard,” the government spokesperson confirmed

To the general relief of environmentalists already facing battles on multiple fronts, the government will not be changing the development boundaries last enlarged in 2006, in the “foreseeable” future.

“The government is not considering any revisions of development boundaries for the foreseeable future,” a spokesperson for planning minister Ian Borg told MaltaToday.

Moreover, any revision of boundaries at any later stage will be following the provisions of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development which foresees “minor adjustments” to development boundaries “whilst ensuring that the overall result does not constitute a significant change.”

Speculation on a pending revision of boundaries has been rife ever since the government commenced a revision of the local plans approved by a PN government in 2006 following a decade-long process.

Information recently presented in parliament revealed that the government was inundated by proposals by landowners to include their plots in development schemes.

In Gozo alone, 497 submissions have been made, seeking permission to extend the development zones on parcels of land kept outside the boundaries.

A spokesperson for Ian Borg refused to set a clear timeframe for the local plan revision process. “The revision of the local plan is a long and laborious process and the authorities will continue their work in this regard,” the government spokesperson confirmed.

MaltaToday is informed that the government was actively considering compensating additional lands to the development zone by removing an equivalent amount of land from the development zone, a suggestion that was even made by the Prime Minister before the 2017 general election.

But the risk of opening a veritable Pandora’s box is keeping the government from tinkering with development zones, fully knowing that there is not enough public land to be taken out of the development schemes to satisfy the demands of landowners who want their land included.

Some developers have even attempted to include new lands by presenting individual zoning applications but a spokesperson for the Planning Authority had confirmed that such applications cannot be approved. In fact, two applications to extend development zones in Ghasri and Xlendi are set to be refused on 5 March.

Moreover, the local plans approved in 2006 coupled with more liberal planning policies introduced after 2013 have contributed to a record number of permits for new dwellings (13,000) approved in 2018. Meanwhile, the 2006 extension of building boundaries, which had to be completed by 2013, remains unfinished business. In fact, twelve years after the approval of new development boundaries, the Planning Authority is still assessing applications by private developers to set zoning rules for 23 different pockets of land which together occupy a land area of approximately 156,000sq.m that is equivalent to the size of 22 football pitches.

Moreover, while in the absence of new boundaries no major residential development can take place in the ODZ, the rural policy approved in 2013 has facilitated the conversion of old farmsteads including ruins, into full blown residences, thus partly accommodating some landowners.

The local plan saga

Writing in the Planning Authority’s annual report for 2014, Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg had said he expected the technical finalisation of the draft local plans to be completed by June 2015. This had to be followed by a discussion with the government, followed by an eight-week public consultation period.

Former parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon had justified tweaking the 2006 boundaries by accusing the former government of having been “creative” in including certain lands, but not others. But following the public outcry against the development of the American University in Zonqor point, the government started having cold feet. No progress on the new local plans was made under Falzon’s successor, Deborah Schembri. The revision was postponed until after the 2017 general election.

It is now quite possible that the process will be postponed closer to the date or even after the next general election.

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