Malta still refuses to ratify the European convention that could protect its threatened landscapes

18 years later, the Maltese government has still not ratified a revolutionary convention that would oblige it to protect protected heritage buildings, respect the wider cultural landscapes and the collective memories of people who inhabit them

Photo: Micaela Parente/Unsplash
Photo: Micaela Parente/Unsplash

Malta has failed to ratify the Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention which obliges signatories to protect their landscapes – a body of law that could put limits on the way Maltese villages are being changed.

Malta was one of the original signatories in 2000 but failed to ratify the Convention in 2010.

The issue was recently raised in Parliament by Nationalist MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, who asked environment minister Josè Herrera whether the government intends to sign the convention. Herrera replied that back in 2010 the PN administration had decided not to ratify the convention.

Questions sent by MaltaToday on whether the present government intends to ratify the treaty remained unanswered.

The Convention is considered revolutionary as it recognised 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”. One recent case where the convention was invoked was with regards to the proposed development of 14 holiday bungalows instead of the Garden of Eden wedding hall, in Zurrieq.

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.

39 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Convention namely: Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom. Iceland and Malta have signed but not ratified the Convention.

Catalonia, a case study on landscape protection

Four years after signing the convention, the Catalan parliament approved a law for the protection, management and planning of the landscape.

The Act applies to all the territory of Catalonia: both to the natural, rural, forest, urban and peripheral areas and to singular landscapes such as every-day and degraded landscapes, whether inland or on the coast. The 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 landscape units understood as areas which have the same landscape character, which are a reflection of the natural, cultural, historic and symbolic diversity to be found in every corner of Catalonia. 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.

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