Wednesday, 1 October 2008

PR: Together for a Sustainable Future?

Together for a Sustainable Future?

Throughout summer of 2006, the authorities justified the Rationalisation scheme to use more countryside for construction purposes by claiming that this would seal shut the development zones and prevent further building Out of Development Zone (ODZ). Before and after this year’s general elections, the electorate continued to be promised more environmental awareness and respect, with emphasis on protection of the countryside. Six months down the road and this promise is far from materialising.

Over the last six months alone, MEPA approved not less than 318 permits to build structures in the countryside or ODZ, many of which are to be built on fresh agricultural land. Although MEPA regulations stipulate that only bona fide agricultural structures, parks and recreational facilities are normally permitted to be built in ODZ, the NGOs are dismayed to see that these permits included flats, garages and light industries. It is therefore hardly surprising that developers are still confident of obtaining permits to build in ODZ and that in spite of official declarations of “no more speculation in ODZ” such applications continue to flood into MEPA, with over 1,160* submitted to MEPA over the last twelve months, at an average rate of 20% of the total of applications submitted.

The rate of take-up of agricultural sites has further escalated recently with the setting up of small industry complexes such as the micro-industry park on fields at ‘Telgha t’Alla u’Ommu’, Naxxar and several other sites which consume a great many tumoli of previously arable land when the carcasses of unfinished showrooms and empty factories litter the island. This could have been avoided by a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) on the sector’s present facilities and future needs. Similarly agro-industries are also being permitted to re-locate to cultivated fields in an unregulated manner rather than being incentivated to re-use abandoned farm buildings.

The lack of revision of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations, which actually facilitate ODZ projects, and the sixteen-year delay in setting up the Consultants’ Register and Code of Ethics, which could have taken place well before MEPA reform, also leaves the countryside more vulnerable to predatory mega-projects such as those at Hondoq ir-Rummien, Ramla l-Hamra and Mellieha Bay.

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