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New planning legislation 'weaker, less transparent, more susceptible to political control' - Valletta Alive Foundation

Photo: viewingmalta.com

Photo: viewingmalta.com

The Valletta Alive Foundation has expressed concerned about the impact new planning legislation would have on urban conservation areas, particularly on Valletta.

“The new planning legislation will result in a planning system that is radically different from the one that has been operating for the past 23 years.  It is weaker with reduced checks and balance; it is less transparent and more susceptible to political control.

“The new planning legislation is likely to impact negatively historic areas including Valletta, because it increases the likelihood of development permits that are incompatible with the historic context.  Over a number of years, the cumulative effect on Valletta's urban heritage value could be devastating,” it said.

Apart from the impact on the urban heritage, VAF said it was also concerned on the impact the new legislation would have on residents.

“By facilitating development, there will be an increased likelihood of developments that will inconvenience residents.  This will undermine the liveability of Valletta and is not in the interest of Valletta’s regeneration.”

Three changes being brought about by the new legislation, it said, were of particular concern.

These included that the executive chairman and members of the executive council did not have security of tenure and it would be possible for the planning minister to relieve them of their duties for no valid reason.  The executive chairman and council would be expected to do whatever the planning minister and ministry officials dictated, including facilitating the endorsement of development that might be contrary to policy and/or might not be otherwise desirable. 

Another worrying change was the removal of the Heritage Advisory Committee is being removed. This gave useful advise on development applications relating to historic buildings and urban conservation areas and included, or should include, persons with extensive knowledge and experience of heritage matters. 

It was also worrying that higher order plans, such as SPED and local plans, would have precedence over lower order ones, such as development briefs and action plans.

“This is misguided as it allows the executive council, possibly under political direction, to amend a local plan in a manner to render superfluous the provisions of a development brief.  Put differently the expert input provided in development briefs based on the specific circumstances and requirements of a site, will be superseded by any minor amendment the executive council will make to the local plan.  This legal provision has no justification on planning grounds.  It will be simply a legalistic tool that will be used to facilitate developments which would not be otherwise desirable.” 

VAF said that rather than being guided by the public interest, the Bill provided legalistic mechanism with which controversial and potentially damaging development could be endorsed by the new Planning Authority, without adequate planning justification. 

Politicians, it said, would give verbal guarantees that urban conservation areas would be safeguarded. 

But while verbal guarantees might give peace of mind in the short term, they were of little or no use in the long term. It was the dynamics of the planning system that would determine the outcome.

“Politicians come and go, but this and future generations will have to bear the consequences of bad decisions on developments in historic areas. 

“The VAF encourages government to reconsider the new planning legislation.  Our historic areas, including Valletta, require planning policy that is derived by appropriate expertise and without being dictated by short-term political considerations.

“Our historic areas require legislation that ensures that applications for development are assessed on the intrinsic merits of the applications, based on appropriate advise, taking into account potential impacts and, above all, without political interference,” the VAF said.

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