Address by the Hon. Chris Said, Parliamentary Secretary for Public Dialogue and Information during the Business Breakfast organised by the Malta Chamber of Planners last Friday.
We talk a lot about enhancing our urban and rural environment…we insist on enhancing the quality of life of our citizens…we strive to improve the face of Malta and Gozo….. and undoubtedly the most important factor in all of this is planning.
Planning is vital if we are to achieve our aims. There is no doubt whatsoever that we all want a better and healthier environment...we all want a better quality of life…we all want our Islands to be more beautiful…we all want our localities to develop while preserving their distinct and unique characteristics…what we all want is Sustainable Development and the Malta Chamber of Planners has a key role in shaping the future of our localities and the quality of life of the residents.
Sustainable development will be one of the main pillars of this legislature. Since the statute of the Chamber of Planners states that planning encompasses city; environmental; land use; landscape; physical; regional; rural; spatial; town; town and country; transport; and urban planning….it is evidently clear that the Chamber should be considered as one of the main supports of this pillar.
Sustainable development was the main theme in the President’s speech in the opening of Parliament and has featured strongly in the budget speech read this week.
During the last five years Government embarked on the largest number of environmental projects ever. Now we will put the concept of sustainability as our ultimate objective for the years to come. Sustainable development will form the basis of the proposals, decisions and actions of the Government for the foreseeable future.
We want to integrate environmental concepts into our social life, the economy and all the sectors. This is why we have also given MCESD the mandate to put the environment in the process of social dialogue which will also involve environmental NGOs.
The concept of sustainable development basically entails that the actions we take today and the immediate future will not compromise the collective wellbeing of future generations.
I note that: economically efficient, socially equitable, and environmentally appropriate organisation of space and infrastructural networks together with sustainable use of land, integrated management and conservation of environmental resources are among your principles. These principles are more than complimentary to what we want to achieve and strengthens my belief that working together will ensure success.
The process to achieve what we are today calling sustainable development has not started now. Maybe the terminology is new but Government has always worked towards a more structured planning which does not hinder development but safeguards our environment and identity.
Following the 1987 general elections Government introduced the concept of local plans and set up what was then known as the Planning Authority in 1992. The Planning Authority eventually evolved into MEPA and this, along with the introduction of specific policies and regulations has helped Government curb the urban sprawl, safeguard rural areas and keep development in check.
Government will not stop here and sees what we have achieved till now as just the beginning. This is confirmed by the intended MEPA reform. MEPA has changed the way in which permits are issued, from a closed system which was rife with irregularities to a system which is more open and organized.
Now we want to make another leap forward so as to ensure that the Authority is answerable to what is expected from it from a society which has environment as its priority.
MEPA Reform should be based on the following guidelines:
(i) Efficiency should be increased in accordance with specified targets
A clearer distinction will be made between applications for small changes in existing residences or businesses and new development applications and applications for new developments. Through these means excessive bureaucracy will be combated.
(ii) The increase of transparency and accountability.
Civil society input in MEPA will be strengthened, with more room for direct consultations with NGOs and residents before decisions which affect a considerable number of persons on a local or national basis are taken.
Measures will be taken to make nvironmental impact assessments more transparent and trust-worthy.
(iii) Ensuring that inconsistencies are reduced.
(iv) Enforcement should be strengthened to eliminate the idea that one can do as he pleases and subsequently get away with it.
The fight against illegal construction outside development zones will be intensified.
As I mentioned earlier, the environment and sustainable development were a principal feature in the budget speech delivered on Monday.
Among the measures we will take….
(i) Government will launch a special funding scheme that will help residents restore facades of pre-1950 buildings in our town and village centres. It is expected that this funding will help restore 700 buildings in Malta and Gozo.
(ii) We have committed Euro 50,000 for two pilot projects concerning the planning of sustainable development strategies on a local basis.
(iii) We have launched the Local Council Green Challenge Award for Local Councils that take measures to enhance the environment in their locality. (Euro 100,000)
(iv) We will also incentivise collective residential schemes.
In these few minutes I have tried to highlight the importance the Government attributes to the obtainment of sustainable development, the environment and planning.
It is clear that our goals and principles are common. This means that joining forces and working together should not be viewed as a necessity but as a natural progression. Together we will achieve our goals. Our common leap forward will result in a leap in the quality of life of our residents.