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Exponential growth in heritage watchdog's workload

From 40 cases in 2013 to 5,000 last year

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage’s annual report for 2016 shows how legal changes to the planning process drastically increased applications. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage’s annual report for 2016 shows how legal changes to the planning process drastically increased applications. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The number of planning applications being reviewed by the heritage watchdog has skyrocketed following last year’s planning reform, official documents show.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage’s annual report for 2016 shows how legal changes to the planning process resulted in a “drastic surge” in planning applications which needed cultural monitoring or approval.

The report says the superintendence, tasked with protecting the island’s cultural heritage, last year reviewed more than 5,400 planning applications, up from 1,099 in 2015.

That number is 13 times higher than what the superintendence reviewed back in 2013 – just 40.

In 2016, the island’s construction laws were overhauled: planning and environmental matters were given their own distinct authorities, doing away with the 24-year-old Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa).

As a result of the reform, the types of applications which required superintendence approval were broadened.

The report says the assessment of applications and other obligations to the Planning Authority is now “the single most onerous commitment of the superintendence” after the planning reform.

The monitoring is done to ensure that works do not damage structures or remains

In fact, the assessment of planning and land use applications, along with the surveillance of construction works, took up over 70 per cent of the superintendent’s resources.

To keep up with this, the superintendence hired two new officers, the report says.

However, this may not be enough. Sources within the superintendence told the Times of Malta that the workload was proving too much for the current staff of 14 to cope with.

At law, each planning application requires a response within 30 days of the publication date, or just 15 days from when officers receive a request for consultation  with the authority.

The report says that officers are required to fully assess all the technical documents submitted as part of an application.

They must also carry out site inspections and meetings with authority officials, architects and developers.

The superintendence sources said trying to keep up with the demand was proving difficult.

Meanwhile, the report says that over 96 per cent of the development consultation requests received by the superintendence in 2016 came from the Planning Authority, with the remaining few originating from Transport Malta and third parties.

The report also shows how the number of monitoring cases increased last year.

The superintendence monitored some 270 construction projects in 2016, up nearly 90 per cent over 2013.

The report says the monitoring is done to ensure that construction works do not result in the damaging of historic structures or archaeological remains.

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