De­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als run­ning against poli­cies should be sent back to the draw­ing board – Michael Briguglio

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

Sliema lo­cal councillor and Front Ħar­sien ODZ rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Briguglio told The

Malta In­de­pen­dent yes­ter­day that de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als clearly run­ning con­trary to pol­icy should be sent right back to the de­vel­op­ers by the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity, rather than hav­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions pub­lished straight away.

The Sliema Lo­cal Coun­cil is being in­un­dated with de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tions, and there is just not enough time to thor­oughly look through them, he said.

Dr Briguglio was asked to com­ment on an opin­ion piece by Flimkien għal Am­b­jent Aħ­jar Co­or­di­na­tor Astrid Vella, where she said the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity should be dis­banded and spoke about a con­tro­ver­sial ap­pli­ca­tion on the Sliema front.

Dr Briguglio chose to speak about the area in gen­eral rather than the spe­cific de­vel­op­ment pro­posal: “The whole is­sue is that we are being over­whelmed by de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tions with a very short time to com­ment on them, and this is very time con­sum­ing. If you just look at the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions per week pub­lished on the Gov­ern­ment Gazette, it is near to im­pos­si­ble to anal­yse all of them.

“We are find­ing that many ap­pli­ca­tions are non-starters and run con­trary to var­i­ous poli­cies. If an ap­pli­ca­tion runs con­trary to pol­icy it should sim­ply be re­fused”. Such ob­jec­tions could be made by the PA them­selves,” he said.

“One thing we see in Sliema is that there are many ap­pli­ca­tions not pro­vid­ing enough park­ing spa­ces. This is a non­starter. If you have a block of 12 apart­ments and not enough park­ing is cre­ated, it would add pres­sure to Sliema’s trans­port in­fra­struc­ture. Most of our ob­jec­tions quote poli­cies which ap­pli­ca­tions vi­o­late. We don’t think the au­thor­ity should just pass on and pub­lish ap­pli­ca­tions, it should have a more proac­tive role. In my opin­ion, if an ap­pli­ca­tion runs con­trary to pol­icy it shouldn’t even be con­sid­ered.”

Of course there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween cer­tain poli­cies, he ex­plained. “If we are speak­ing about a 30cm dif­fer­ence be­tween some­thing, that is one thing, but about a res­i­den­tial com­plex with­out enough park­ing it should sim­ply be sent back to the de­vel­op­ers.”

Dr Briguglio ex­plained that the coun­cil has a com­mit­tee which looks into all ap­pli­ca­tions, but it is im­pos­si­ble to anal­yse them thor­oughly. “To make mat­ters worse, gov­ern­ment is spon­sor­ing big de­vel­op­ment.”

As an ex­am­ple, he men­tioned the Paceville mas­ter plan. “It seems that gov­ern­ment is not act­ing ac­cord­ing to a na­tional mas­ter plan or ev­i­dence-based pol­icy mak­ing. My hunch is that gov­ern­ment is sat­is­fy­ing the needs of cer­tain de­vel­op­ers and de­signed the Paceville plan ac­cord­ingly. In fact, Front Ħar­sien ODZ has ap­pealed to gov­ern­ment and the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity to pub­lish all cor­re­spon­dence re­lated to the Paceville plan.

“The PA should not just be there to rub­ber­stamp, they should en­gage with de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als.” Look­ing at the Town­square de­vel­op­ment, he said that the PA prac­ti­cally pub­lished the im­pact state­ments car­ried out with­out en­gag­ing with them.

Dr Briguglio added: “The PA has ex­perts who should en­gage on th­ese things, not present them as though they are some truth which no­body could ques­tion.

“I looked into the project’s so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment. The so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment was 10 years old, how come they didn’t com­ment on this? You don’t even need to be a so­ci­ol­o­gist to know that a 10-year-old so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment has cer­tain prob­lems and lim­i­ta­tions. Why do they present it as gospel truth? They should en­gage on th­ese is­sues.”

Asked yes­ter­day to elab­o­rate on her opin­ion piece, Flimkien għal Am­b­jent Aħ­jar Co­or­di­na­tor Astrid Vella said that in the face of the MEPA’s glar­ing short­com­ings, var­i­ous im­prove­ments had been made to plan­ning pro­ce­dures as a re­sult of their lob­by­ing be­tween 2007 and 2013, “the most im­por­tant of which was mak­ing in­for­ma­tion ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic and re­duc­ing con­flicts of in­ter­est by es­tab­lish­ing that prac­tic­ing ar­chi­tects should no longer be ap­pointed to MEPA boards.

“All this is now chang­ing, by lim­it­ing in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic, since ap­pli­ca­tions can no longer be seen on na­tional news­pa­pers as they have been shifted to the Gov­ern­ment Gazette, while the ‘sum­mary pro­ceed­ings’ that has been in­tro­duced at the PA means that some ap­pli­ca­tions are being pro­cessed with­out a pub­lic hear­ing, which we main­tain is il­le­gal. Fur­ther­more, the two EPC boards which were com­posed of 10 mem­bers in­clud­ing non-prac­tic­ing ar­chi­tects, plan­ners and mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety, have now been re­duced to one board, usu­ally three peo­ple in­clud­ing a prac­tic­ing ar­chi­tect and no mem­bers of the pub­lic.

“Turn­ing to the Paceville mas­ter plan, Ms Vella said that it is per­fectly clear to all mem­bers of the pub­lic that gov­ern­ment is lean­ing to­wards de­vel­op­ers. This had pub­licly been promised in the run-up to the elec­tions, which is why FAA came down so heav­ily against PL pro­pos­als prior to the 2013 elec­tions.”

Asked whether she be­lieves the PA is a pup­pet of gov­ern­ment, or whether they do their job, she said: “I be­lieve this ques­tion was clearly an­swered by the Cham­ber of Plan­ners when they stated ‘The Cham­ber is not privy to the way the mas­ter plans and such are for­mu­lated… Un­for­tu­nately, there ex­ists a mis­con­cep­tion that the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity, its ac­tions and de­ci­sions are al­ways mo­ti­vated by plan­ning the­ory and prin­ci­ples or driven by plan­ners. Re­gret­tably, this is not the case.’”

Ques­tions fol­low­ing Astrid Vella’s opin­ion ar­ti­cle have been sent to the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity.

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