Astrid Vella quits planning forum, calling it an excuse to maintain 'status quo'

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar states NGOs insisted on prioritising damaging planning issues, but were instructed to focus on trivial green walls

Astrid Vella (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Astrid Vella (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Coordinator at Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Astrid Vella has called it quits at the Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum (IPCF), claiming the committee was only appointed to keep the status quo.

“It is well known that when politicians want to appear to be doing something about an issue where they would prefer to maintain the status quo, they appoint a committee, and obfuscate. Such is the so-called Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum (IPCF),” FAA said in a statement.

FAA said that the eNGOs appointed to the Forum insisted on prioritising the most damaging planning issues, but they were instructed focus on non-essential issues such as green walls.

“In 2021, the IPCF was supposed to be dealing with planning issues but hardly met at all. Meanwhile, untold and permanent damage is being done due to the authorities’ adamant refusal to review the increase in building heights surreptitiously slipped into Design Guidelines 2014, Annex 2.”

It said that the “manipulated” building heights are destroying streetscapes all over Malta and Gozo, and ruining the settings of heritage buildings.

FAA cited the scheduled Fgura Razzett l-Antik, the Xewkija heritage house and the scheduled Barracuda Restaurant as examples of how Malta’s architectural history and cultural identity are being wiped out.

“While the Minister for the Environment is not supposed to interfere in the planning process, it is his responsibility to ensure that policies and regulation are respected.”

FAA added that permits are being issued in violation of the Structure Plan, Local Plans, SPED, DC 15 and UNESCO Guidelines for World Heritage Sites, like ITS Pembroke, the MIDI project at Manoel Island, the hotels in Sliema's residential area, the high blocks in Xlendi, the “massive” projects in Qala, Sannat, Nadur and the hotel development under Mdina bastions.

“In granting such permits, the authorities clearly demonstrate they do not care about the quality of life in our communities, or the health of residents who are being engulfed by over-development and choked by Malta's ever-increasing rates of vehicle emissions.”

“High buildings trap pollution in narrow roads, and widening roads takes precedence over improving public transport, providing safe pavements and bicycle lanes. The silence from authorities over the 24/7 fumes emitted at Palumbo Dock which engulf the whole of Senglea, illustrate the lack of concern for residents’ health,” FAA said.

It called unacceptable Minister Aaron Farrugia’s attitude that NGOs have the option to appeal abusive permits.

“Why should NGOs and local councils spend all their financial and time resources to counter the Planning Authority's dereliction of duty? Minister Aaron Farrugia's 2020 announcement of a review of the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) has still not materialised, two years later.”

FAA stated that the Environment Resources Authority’s readiness to waive Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) has accommodated destructive road projects destroying trees and ecology while roadside trees and urban gardens, essential lungs, remain unprotected and are destroyed.

“The almost complete scaling down of enforcement action, along with the risible fines has created a climate of impunity enjoyed by powerful cowboy developers, at the costs of the Maltese public and its heritage, in violation of our laws and Constitution.”

It said that NGOs and public are treated with “arrogance and disrespect” in the boards where the more harmful applications are decided.  FAA criticised the system of online meetings, which it said is heavily weighed in favour of developers.

“Similarly, the authorities ignore NGO demands that developers are to finance infrastructural works required by their grand developments. This burden on taxpayers is a gift to developers, amounting to state aid to the construction sector.”

According to FAA, EU laws on energy efficiency in buildings to ensure sustainable construction are not being imposed, undermining Malta’s chances of attaining its EU Climate Change commitments.

It said Malta and especially Gozo’s urban and rural environments have deteriorated exponential with towns becoming more chaotic and quality of life deteriorating, while high buildings ruined the character and streetscapes of Malta's towns and villages.

“For these reasons, Astrid Vella, FAA’s representative, has resigned from the IPCF as we cannot continue to form part of an organisation that is essentially a sham to give credibility to the environmental authorities who are allowing certain developers to act with impunity, destroying much of Malta and Gozo in the process,” FAA concluded.