Urban greening gets a funding boost

Financial support for urban greening projects has been pushed towards the top of the Planning Authority’s agenda. BusinessToday spoke to Perit Vincent Cassar, Chairperson of the Planning Authority’s Development Planning Fund Committee, about recent revisions made to this Fund as part of the Authority’s green reforms


Since January 2017, the Planning Authority has invested in Malta’s quality of life and environmental sustainability through its Planning Development Fund. The Fund promotes projects that embellish urban areas for the benefit of the wider residential community.

With financing available to local councils, NGOs and other entities, following the latest revisions, the Fund is now Malta’s most widescale injection of capital into projects that, in particular, promote urban greening and support vulnerable sectors of society.

Perit Cassar says  “Since as early as 2003, the Authority has had various funding schemes for public projects but these operated in quite a fragmented manner. To fix this through the setting up of the Planning Development Fund, we’ve adopted a consolidated approach for the funding of urban improvement projects. We established a single committee to regulate a single fund. Our revised, streamlined approach has made funding more accessible to urban embellishment initiatives.”

“The Planning Development Fund receives financing from a few different sources, with on-street parking fees being the most significant among them. Planning gains too make up a portion of the fund, whereby a developer of a sizeable new development is asked to make a financial contribution for the inconvenience caused in the locality where their development occurs. The submitted funds have primarily been used on a locality’s community projects aimed at mitigating the negative effects of urban development. The contribution, therefore, is kept within the locality to be used on projects that improve its community facilities and green areas.”

Building on its previous measures and following considerable input from various local councils and the Ministry for Environment, Climate Change and Planning, the Fund’s revision in 2020 is replete with incentives for local councils, regions, NGOs and other bodies to invest in Green and Blue Infrastucture (GBI). The Planning Authority believes in the benefits this will have on Malta’s environment, biodiversity, health and quality of life. In this respect, the Authority is promoting cross-organisational partnerships to encourage the involvement of people with the right expertise, the necessary experience and the most innovative and informed vision.

“Previously, a project would receive up to 70% of eligible funds,” explains Perit Cassar. “There were some exceptions, though, because we’ve always encouraged Local Councils to join forces on public projects. This is because two heads are better than one, and through a partnership you benefit from economies of scale. To encourage joint projects between two local councils, we had made 100% of eligible funds available to such projects. With our latest revision, we’ve expanded this incentive to all partnerships and not just those between local councils. So, for example, a local council can now partner up with an NGO or another entity, or an NGO could partner up with another NGO, to jointly apply.

“Besides partnerships, our funding rates have also been amended in other aspects too. For example, most projects used to receive 70% of eligible funding. But now, projects that incorporate facilities for the disabled will get 80%, and GBI interventions will receive 90%. In some cases, green open spaces, such as gardens and green roofs in urban areas, will even be granted up to 100%. This not only includes the capital expediture but any required studies and a five year maintenance plan.”

What’s more, 100% of funding isn’t the Fund’s upper limit. Projects that incorporate vertical green walls overlooking public spaces, such a public garden with walls on either side, will receive a 5% bonus and if there is need of a development application it will have its fees waived. The intention is for the community to benefit from a more pleasant aesthetic experience by having ‘living walls’ of plants dominating vertical planes, rather than a garden overlooked by bare walls. With land becoming such a scarcity, this incentive encourages new methods of introducing greenery into Malta’s urban environment to purify the air, reduce ambient temperature and enhance the community’s well-being.

“We’re eager to receive applications for innovative urban greening projects,” continues Perit Cassar. “We want to see projects with sustainable ecology, the health of the community and a vision for long-term success at their core. We’ve also introduced funding to cover maintenance costs because we know that site maintenance is off-putting from a financial perspective. Therefore, for such projects, the funding application requires a five-year maintenance plan.

“If successful, the applicant will receive maintenance funding for that initial five-year period. The idea is that green spaces are going to look sparse on day one, requiring a large amount of maintenance until the greenery reaches maturity. After five years, it should have reached a level of maturity that will make it more likely to survive with less maintenance. Through consultations with the Environment and Resources Authority, we have also determined the kinds of plant species that applications could include to benefit Maltese biodiversity.”

The driving force behind these new incentives is the Authority’s desire to receive more funding applications for projects that will genuinely improve community well-being. This looks to be probable since larger localities with significant urban development are also seeing their capping of funds being increased from €5 million to €7 million. In addition, the ‘Sebbaħ il-Lokal’ initiative, which has seen an additional €50,000 allotted to particular localities, has also been extended to December 2022.

“We want to encourage organisations to partner up with experts to break new ground in urban greening in Malta,” concludes Perit Cassar. “We’re hoping for a shift in mentality. Urban greening projects require patience. It will take time for trees and plants to grow. But when they do, our quality of life will receive a boost that no amount of quick-fix paving can provide. With the volume of funding that’s available through the Planning Development Fund, we believe that the time for sustainable and cutting-edge greening projects in Malta is now.”

More in People