A national plan worth paying attention to

Imagine a reality where people thrive with a high quality of life – one where the health and well-being of a country’s citizens and its natural environment are in sync. The Strategic Plan for Environment and Development is Malta’s roadmap for getting there, and Perit Joseph Scalpello, from the Planning Authority, explains why


Sustainability must be the word of the decade – or even the last half-century. Time and again we are made aware that we are the generation that will make or break the planet, and advice and guidelines in this regard are abundant. Move over digital age, we are living in the age of planning for sustainable development.

But along with prominence comes fuzziness. What exactly is ‘sustainable development’ and how is it achieved? Malta’s Planning Authority (PA) sought to establish this much-needed clarity through its Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) back in 2015. As the blueprint enters its first revision five years on, Perit Joseph Scalpello, Assistant Director in the PA’s Policy Directorate, breaks down the Strategic Plan’s critical role.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find people who know about the SPED despite its influence on our lives,” begins Perit Scalpello. “The SPED is Malta’s overarching development vision which all national policies and local plans are answerable to and work towards achieving. It is an aspirational direction for Malta’s development that sits above and steers detailed policies on the ground.

“When you say ‘development’ or ‘żvilupp’, most people think about Malta’s development zoning plan, building heights or some other detailed level of planning. But the SPED comes before all of that. It is a vision that spans 2015 to 2035, and by its very nature, it’s a statement of intent. It rationalises what we want the country to look like in 2035 and puts forward a series of actions to get us there.”

Perit Joseph Scalpello
Perit Joseph Scalpello

Before the SPED, other iterations of structure plans for Malta laid out paths for the country’s urban and rural evolution to follow. The SPED, however, was the first to delineate Malta’s coastal zone as well as include the country’s vast 25-nautical-mile marine area in development planning, making it an unabridged and all-encompassing strategic national document.

“The SPED identifies our country’s spatial structure,” continues Perit Scalpello, explaining that the plan organises the country into four territories – urban, rural, coastal and marine. What’s more, Gozo is regarded as a separate region to recognise the particular realities and challenges the island faces that require a customised approach to its development.

“The SPED clearly defines each of the islands’ spatial areas to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. It, therefore, translates the country’s vision of having a more efficient economy, more sustainable use of space and improved health and well-being into a spatial vision for each area.”

The PA’s Strategic Plan defines Malta’s urban areas as pollution-free, safe places to live and work, while its rural parts are green lungs that shall sustain farming and provide an escape from urban life. Malta’s coastal and marine zones shall support fishing communities, nurture biodiversity and maximise sustainable socio-economic growth through initiatives like ports, power stations, reverse osmosis plants and connectivity cables to Europe.

“Untangling development into a long-term vision with clear goals has been indispensable,” the Assistant Director remarks, “but long-term planning is an uncertain activity because circumstances change. That said, the law prohibits reviews before five years, so now that the SPED is five years old, we can take stock. Where are we on our journey to 2035?”

Reflecting on the road ahead, Perit Scalpello explains that, as the SPED review kicks into gear over the next few months, the general public is being urged to get involved through public consultations. “The SPED is written with the public in mind, so despite its depth, it’s a very straightforward and easy-to-read booklet, and its review will affect Malta’s future in terms of development. Public interest and awareness are vital. Everyone should speak up at this policy-drafting stage because, ultimately, the outcome will affect us all.

“What do you think has or hasn’t worked and where is our strategic plan lacking? Now is the time to participate because the policy decisions of today will impact the PA’s judgements of planning applications tomorrow. And once the controlling framework is established, applications that are fully compliant will likely be approved. So, while you might not be interested in development at the minute, your neighbour is sure to be – but when their planning notice is pinned to the wall outside, it’s already too late.”

Malta’s Strategic Plan for Environment and Development can be accessed via https://issuu.com/planningauthority/docs/sped_approved_doc__1_.

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