ODZ sprawl will continue unless laws are changed, says Environment Commissioner
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ODZ sprawl will continue unless laws are changed, says Environment Commissioner

David Pace says ERA must have power to block controversial projects

ODZ approvals have angered much of civil society. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

ODZ approvals have angered much of civil society. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Building on ODZ land will continue unabated as long as the Environment and Resources Authority is denied a veto in controversial development applications, the Environmental Commissioner has warned.

In a statement calling for laws to be updated to give the ERA a greater say in planning decisions, Commissioner for Environment and Planning David Pace slammed developers for filing misleading applications under false pretences and said that the onus was on the Planning Authority's boards and commissions to "go beyond the 'checklist' approach."

The PA has been in the limelight over the past couple of weeks following controversial decisions to approve projects for a nursing home in Naxxar and a service station in Burmarrad, both to be built outside development zones.

Mr Pace said PA board and commission members had the discretion to reject projects which ticked all the right boxes, just as they had the discretion to approve "what is a justifiable case even if it does not tick the right boxes."

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The Commissioner was moved to issue a statement after NGO Nature Trust called for him to step in and condemn what it called the "gangrenous invasion of development on ODZ land". 

In his statement, the Commissioner emphasised what he felt was the legislative failing underpinning current problems, noting that he had warned about the ERA's lack of power as early as September 2015 and again in a letter to the Environment Minister dated August 2016. following statistics which revealed that many ODZ applications were being approved "despite objections by the ERA." 

The latter came after statistics revealed that many ODZ applications were being approved "despite objections by the ERA." 

Mr Pace said that until the ERA were given the final say in projects which could harm the environment, it would "have to endure situations where development masked as ‘agricultural stores’, complete with interconnecting spiral staircases to different levels, and recorded declarations and drawings that the ultimate use will be residential, changed to show ‘agricultural use’ merely to obtain approval, are passed by the Board."

"Development should ultimately benefit the whole community not just the developer," Mr Pace's statement concluded. 

'Toothless' ERA

Both the ERA and PA were formed following the demerger of what was previously the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in 2016. The demerger - one of the Labour Party's electoral pledges in its 2013 manifesto - split Mepa's environmental and planning roles into distinct entities.

The split raised concerns from the outset, with environmentalists immediately noting that revised laws gave the PA far more power over planning decisions than its ERA offshoot. 

Sceptics argued that new laws relegated the ERA to playing a mere consultative role in planning decisions and expressed concern about key PA posts being filled by ministerial appointees.  

Mr Pace had himself highlighted the disproportionate balance of power between the two entities in August 2016, saying the demerger had created a "powerless, toothless" environmental regulator. 

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