PA reverses decision: application objections to remain public

Planning Authority said it opted to follow the guidance as stipulated in a GDPR internal audit

File Photo
File Photo

The Planning Authority (PA) has reversed the decision that would have restricted public access to objections, presented by the public on different projects.

“Objections that are submitted on development applications will remain fully available to the public in the interest of transparency the Planning Authority can confirm,” PA said in a statement.

Earlier a circular by the PA came to light, which revealed a decision to restrict public access to the objections. Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia had disassociated himself from it but the objections had also been removed from the PA’s public information system. 

PA said that following a GDPR internal audit, it was advised that representations received through email and conventional mail were potentially in breach of data protection, since personal data was being published and available to the public.

Given the fact that the Development Planning Act does not provide any guidance for the processing or accessibility of representations, the Authority opted to follow the guidance as stipulated in the GDPR. “In order to allow further consultation on the matter, the Authority reversed its decision and will once again keep all representations available to public.”

The Authority reminded the public that persons wishing to submit a representation without disclosing their identity may still opt to submit a representation through the eApplications system or through the Authority’s website.

In addition, submitting a representation through the Authority’s eApplications system also ensures that the content of the representations will be made available publicly whilst limiting access to the person’s contact details.

“The Authority apologises for any inconvenience this may have caused and remains committed to ensure that the planning process is transparent and open to public access and scrutiny,” the statement concluded.

The news had prompted the negative reaction of various NGOs and individuals. Moviment Graffitti had described this measure as "a declaration of war" and lawyer and environmentalist Claire Bonello, had described the GDPR audit as a "smokescreen."

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) expressed its disgust for what it called the Planning Authority's latest attempt to silence the public by hiding objections from the public. "Although the PA has now reversed this decision, the very fact that it attempted to block transparency shows that it is still intent on aiding and abetting developers' abuse."