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Changes proposed to Mepa film permits procedure

Board proposes new conditions for filming permits

Three months after part of Dwejra in Gozo was covered in construction sand, this is what it looks like today after a clean-up. Photo: Max Xuereb

Three months after part of Dwejra in Gozo was covered in construction sand, this is what it looks like today after a clean-up. Photo: Max Xuereb

A long-awaited review of the way the planning authority allowed a film company to spread sand over the ecologically sensitive area of Dwejra, an incident that sparked uproar, was published yesterday but made no major revelations.

The board of review found that the conditions, set out by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, were “by and large” satisfactory and sufficient but were not all followed by the film company involved.

While Mepa received notice of the intended date of sand laying, this came too close to the actual day, so when officers went on site, the material was already laid in a way that breached the conditions.

The board stressed its role was not to assess the damage at Dwejra – which is being looked at in a second inquiry – or to see whether Mepa could be blamed for any of the damage. Instead, its job was to come up with recommendations as to how Mepa could improve the way it allows such filming.

While agreeing that permit applications for filming should be “fast-tracked” to safeguard the industry, the procedure must be improved to ensure sensitive areas were protected, the board said.

It acknowledged it was impossible for Mepa enforcement officers to be always present during any form of development but such monitoring duties could be shared by a designate representative of the film company who would be personally responsible for any breaches of the law.

In addition, the Mepa enforcement unit should also inspect the development at regular intervals both when the set was being erected and when it was being dismantled. Furthermore, Mepa could even involve environmental NGOs to assist in its enforcement duties.

The board said while the arrangements in place should be kept for the determination of applications for film-shooting on sites that were not considered sensitive, the decision-making body should be the Environment and Planning Commission and not the Director of Planning in cases of sensitive sites.

The board suggested that Mepa could draw up a list of sites that were considered sensitive so the case officer and the Environment and Planning Commission would be aware of such constraints. There were no more than a dozen or so sites which were frequently sought for filming purposes and this procedure would speed up the application process.

The board also proposed new conditions to be imposed for filming permits, including the requirement of a mission statement and an express provision requiring the applicant to report any damage caused to the environment where film-shooting took place.

It also said there should be an increase in the bank guarantee for film-shooting in environmentally sensitive areas and full insurance coverage.

The report was authored out by Kevin Aquilina and Simone Borg, experts in environmental law, and was ordered by the Parliamentary Secretary for Culture and the Environment, Mario de Marco.

Dr de Marco welcomed the conclusions of the report and said all the recommendations were passed on to Mepa for implementation.

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