Tuesday, 28 October 2008

NGOs propose changes to Mepa powers

From the Times of Malta
Oct 28, 2008

Environmental organisations joined forces in the name of sustainable development and yesterday presented the Prime Minister with a report listing 74 recommendations for the reform of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA).

The seven non-government organisations launched the report, Towards Sustainable Development Planning In Malta, during a press conference and called for more accountability, improved planning procedures, better enforcement and environmental protection.

The NGOs were Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth, the Gaia Foundation, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, the Ramblers Association, Save Wied Garnaw Action Group and the Light Pollution Awareness Group. Nature Trust and BirdLife also contributed to the report.

The 47-page document is divided into five main sections. The first looks at improving the legal framework and recommends that policies governing development outside development zones and in protected areas be strengthened and made legally binding.

The NGOs suggest the pre-screening of development applications so that those proposing illegal development are not processed; suspending a development permit until the appeal is decided; removing Mepa's power to sanction illegal development in protected areas; obliging Mepa to provide a public register on pending enforcement notices; updating building regulations and sanitary laws; increasing fines for illegal development; and making Mepa board members personally liable and accountable.

Another set of proposals is aimed at improving Mepa's organisational structures by appointing a full-time chairman and board members - including members on the Development Control Commission and Planning Appeals Board - to avoid conflicts of interest.

The NGOs also call for the role of the Environment Directorate and the Heritage Advisory Committee within the decision-making process to be strengthened.

The third section looks at improving development planning procedures by better addressing third-party rights, restarting public consultation if plans are considerably amended, and assigning Mepa the responsibility of commissioning Environmental Impact Assessments, which so far lies in the hands of developers.

Further proposals deal with ensuring Mepa makes use of its powers to fine developers of illegal buildings and setting up district management teams to monitor specific green areas.

Finally, the proposals seek to improve the public's role in development planning by making information more accessible.

After presenting the recommendations to the media the NGOs headed for Castille where they handed the document to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

He thanked them for their contribution to the reform, which he had listed as a pre-electoral promise, adding that last week he had concluded consultations with Mepa employees.

Speaking during a Nationalist Party activity last month Dr Gonzi said he was planning to announce details about the reform by the end of the year.

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