PN unclear on how proposed two-thirds parliamentary vote for ODZ projects will work

The Nationalist Party is proposing that only projects of a national interest should go ahead on land outside the development zones after a two-thirds parliamentary vote but its spokesperson insists 'what is permissible today will remain permissible'

From left to right: PN candidate Justin Schembri, PN chief spokesperson Peter Agius and PN candidate Bernice Bonello  (Photo: PN)
From left to right: PN candidate Justin Schembri, PN chief spokesperson Peter Agius and PN candidate Bernice Bonello (Photo: PN)

A proposal floated by Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech to introduce a two-thirds parliamentary vote for projects of national interest on ODZ land remains nebulous at best.

Grech said earlier in the week that a future Nationalist government will limit ODZ development to projects of national interest and these would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament. He was scant on detail, which raised immediate questions over whether such a policy would also apply to ODZ applications related to agricultural use such as greenhouses, reservoirs and rubble walls.

However, a press conference on Wednesday by PN chief spokesperson Peter Agius failed to clarify how the proposal will work in practice and whether MPs will be tasked to analyse planning documents before voting on a project.

Agius did explain that ODZ applications linked to agricultural practices would not have to go through the parliamentary process but also added that 'what is permissible today will remain permissible'.

His replies failed to clarify what projects would be required to go before parliament and whether these also included private projects, road works and infrastructural works involving marine areas. He added that the party was open to a suggestion made by the Chamber of Architects to have different classifications of ODZ development.

The press conference was held at Żonqor Point in Marsaskala with Agius claiming that the proposed campus for the American University of Malta was granted special dispensation by the government to be developed on ODZ land.

Asked by MaltaToday whether massive projects like the extension of the Comino hotel, the Central Link project and the tunnel between Malta and Gozo, would be subject to a parliamentary vote, Agius replied that where development is already present, existing planning policies will apply.

“What is permissible, will remain permissible. What we are talking about are projects that bypass the existing planning policies like the Żonqor campus project, that should not be allowed,” he said.

Agius would not say whether the Rural Policy enacted in 2014 that allows the development of farmhouses and villas instead of small structures on ODZ land if it can be proven that someone lived there should be overhauled.

“We propose different classifications of ODZ development and clear rules, so that the heritage of the next generations is safeguarded,” he said.

Agius said that development is important, however this should not go against the national interest. The PN is proposing a mechanism through which any project of national interest, is approved democractically through parliament, he added.

He emphasised however that the party is not looking to wage war against farmers, arguing that it was absurd that agricultural projects were treated on the same level as massive projects like the Żonqor campus. 

PN candidate Justin Schembri emphasised that the country is losing public spaces and areas for family recreation.  

“This does not mean that no development could go ahead[...] The land is of the Maltese and not of any political party,” Schembri said. 

Bernice Bonello, a PN candidate said that this proposal would foresee a more democratic approach for development on ODZ land. She appealed to the youths like herself to speak up on environmental issues when they are not in agreement.

She said there was nothing wrong for MPs to be scrutinising planning applications when asked whether the parliamentary vote in the PN proposal should take place before or after the formal planning process.