From the Times of Malta
Saturday, 29th January 2011
Constant vigilance ensures quality
The Ramblers’ Association, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Friends of the Earth (Malta) cannot but agree with most of what Petra Bianchi had to say in her contribution entitled Let Quality Be The Watchword (January 8). At many meetings with various government authorities we have been raising those very same points regarding the sad state of the natural and built-up environment in Malta for the last five years.
Very few will deny that for a good number of years the government threw sound planning policies and sensible land management to the wind for no other purpose than to keep on reaping the massive financial revenue the construction frenzy generated for the Treasury. Revenue was boosted but the unfortunate and irreversible result is that Malta has lost yet more of its character and charm. Many palatial houses have been demolished and lost forever, characteristic streetscapes disfigured, villages and their cores distorted, the rural landscapes scarred with an array of motley structures and the coastline either left littered with shanties or ruined by new unsightly mega-projects.
Fearing that loss of momentum in the construction industry would cut short its lucrative income, the government imposed the infamous “rationalisation scheme”, which designated a good portion of our scant countryside as new development land. This exercise was both irrational and unnecessary, considering that about 75,000 housing units lay unutilised. Its ill-effects have yet to be felt and will certainly have the state of the environment beleagured for years to come. As the Malta Environment and Planning Authority commits these sites for urbanisation, yet more green areas will give way to more pointless constructions.
It is worth reminding that the “ensuing public outcry” mentioned by Dr Bianchi, which eventually brought about the ongoing reform of the Mepa, was due to our vigourous reaction as we promptly came out against the “rationalisation scheme” and held a demonstration in Valletta. Indeed, the Ramblers’ Association, The Friends of the Earth and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar did not falter to take the government to court over the issue, where the case is still painfully being processed by a judicial assistant. Yes, it is due to their outspoken stand and to their tenacious opposition to a number of outrageous permits, all vindicated by the Mepa Auditor’s reports, that Malta owes the ongoing reform of the planning authority.
Following a number of positive decisions by the new Mepa board, Dr Bianchi might feel the storm is over. Indeed, she feels there is now a new danger: that Mepa might “oppose all new ideas or take on a siege mentality where it is preferable to refuse everything rather than risk being exposed to some heat and scrutiny”. This is unlikely for the reason that, although we do exert heat and scrutiny, none of our NGOs has ever opposed positive and sustainable development. Indeed, we are delighted to acknowledge and applaud the new Mepa board for its very well-substantiated and correct decisions. Yet, with all the trust we have in it, and in Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco, we will not lower our guard.
Rather, we follow the motto of Din l-Art Ħelwa, “Vigilo” – not only in word but, especially, in deed. At meetings being held on the Mepa reform process, on the worthy initiative of Dr de Marco, we keep voicing our concerns with the same heat and scrutiny we have shown towards Mepa’s past unjustifiable decisions, in the full knowledge that pernicious pressures from various quarters on Mepa boards and officers will persist.
Only constant vigilance will secure vital environmental consciousness. This vigilance cannot be lowered if quality needs to be ensured at Mepa.
Let it be crystal clear: we work for the planning authority to regain the credibility it has meritedly lost. As environmental NGOs that mean business we will continue to show unity and steadfast determination to safeguard what little remains. Our intent has never been, and will never be, to push Mepa into a siege mentality. But neither do we intend to sit on the fence and watch Malta and Gozo burn.