Environment commissioner recommends marine development plan

Environment commissioner David Pace recommends government to draw up a marine subject plan.

The Commissioner for the Environment and Planning in the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, David Pace recommended that a marine subject plan to regulate the development of the coast and surrounding seas be carried out in the full revision of the local plans that is now being undertaken by Government.

Although the commissioner does not refer specifically to the government's land reclamation plans, a marine subject plan to regulate the development of the coast and surrounding seas would necessarily deal with this issue.

According to the Strategic Environment Assessment directive, MEPA like all public authorities, is also obliged to carry out an impact assessment on any plan which has an impact on the environment and land use.  

This would mean that the environmental impacts of land reclamation would have to be assessed.

So far, the government has ditched this obligation by not issuing any formal plan on land reclamation by simply issuing a call for expression of interest without issuing any guidelines on where such a development should take place.

In a letter dated 19 July to the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Administrative Simplification Michael Farrugia, the commissioner explained that the government was conducting an exercise for a complete revision of Local Plans, an exercise intended to identify and propose innovative ideas and recommend new directions for land use that can be considered as beneficial.

"There is no doubt that the development that took place during the last 20 years since the setting up of MEPA, has caused changes in the life-style of the country and the expectations of the Maltese in various activities like entertainment, leisure and access to the countryside and the sea.  Such developments are creating more pressure on the use of land and therefore this exercise is necessary so that land use today and in the near future is regulated in a sustainable and integrated manner," David Pace said.

He added that the zone encompassing the coast and adjoining marine area had always been subject to various pressures of development.  Pace noted that apart from the traditional use of the sea for fishing and swimming, other new means of entertainment and economic activity have been created on the coast.  These activities included nautical sports, diving as a pastime that has developed into a new and important niche industry in tourism, and the fish farming industry.

At the same time, Pace pointed out that a greater awareness had developed about the natural heritage, ecology and marine resources "that necessarily need to be given their due importance in the strategic planning of the use of these areas."

In his letter to the parliamentary secretary Michael Farrugia, the commissioner recommended government to draw up a marine subject plan. 

"Such a plan would cover issues concerning Marine Spatial Planning.  The plan should serve as a guide in the choices that need to be made in those cases where there is conflict in the demand for use of these areas. In this way, every proposal for development, use of resources or conservation programmes would be considered in an integrated and holistic manner within the parameters of this plan," he said.

Moreover, the commissioner noted that any persons who would like to promote a project that affects these areas would have a clear indication whether his proposal could be favourably approved.

More in National