Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Development proposals running against policies should be sent back to the drawing board'

Kevin Schembri Orland - The Malta Independent 27 October 2016

Sliema local councillor and Front Harsien ODZ representative Michael Briguglio told The Malta Independent yesterday that development proposals clearly running contrary to policy should be sent right back to the developers by the Planning Authority, rather than having the applications published straight away.
The Sliema local council is being inundated with development applications, and there is just not enough time to thoroughly look through them, he said.
Dr Briguglio was asked to comment on an opinion piece by Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar Coordinator Astrid Vella, where she said the Planning Authority should be disbanded and spoke about a controversial application on the Sliema front.
Dr Briguglio chose to speak about the area in general rather than the specific development proposal: “The whole issue is that we are being overwhelmed by development applications with a very short time to comment on them, and this is very time consuming. If you just look at the number of applications per week published on the government gazette, it is near to impossible to analyse all of them.
“We are finding that many applications are non-starters and run contrary to various policies. If an application runs contrary to policy it should simply be refused”. Such objections could be made by the PA themselves,” he said.
“One thing we see in Sliema is that there are many applications not providing enough parking spaces. This is a non-starter. If you have a block of 12 apartments and not enough parking is created, it would add pressure to Sliema’s transport infrastructure. Most of our objections quote policies which applications violate. We don’t think the authority should just pass on and publish applications, it should have a more proactive role. In my opinion, if an application runs contrary to policy it shouldn’t even be considered”.
Of course there is a difference between certain policies, he explained. “If we are speaking about a 30 cm difference between something, that is one thing, but about a residential complex without enough parking it should simply be sent back to the developers.”
Dr Briguglio explained that the council has a committee which looks into all applications, but it is impossible to analyse them thoroughly. “To make matters worse, government is sponsoring big development”.
As an example, he mentioned the Paceville master plan. “It seems to be that government is not acting according to a national master plan or evidence based policy making. My hunch is that government is satisfying the needs of certain developers and designed the Paceville plan accordingly.  In fact, Front Harsien ODZ has appealed to government and the Planning Authority to publish all correspondence related to the Paceville plan. 
“The PA should not just be there to rubberstamp, they should engage with development proposals”. Looking at the Townsquare development, he said that the PA practically published the impact statements carried out without engaging with them. 
Dr Briguglio added, “The PA has experts should engage on these things, not present them as though they are some truth which nobody could question.
“I looked into the project’s social impact assessment. The social impact assessment was 10 years old, how come they didn’t comment on this? You don’t even need to be a sociologist to know that a 10-year-old social impact assessment has certain problems and limitations. Why do they present it as gospel truth? They should engage on these issues.”
Asked yesterday to elaborate on her opinion piece, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar Coordinator Astrid Vella said that in the face of the MEPA’s glaring shortcomings, various improvements had been made to planning procedures as a result of their lobbying between 2007 and 2013, “The most important of which was making information accessible to the public and reducing conflicts of interest by establishing that practicing architects should no longer be appointed to MEPA boards. 
“All this is now changing, by limiting information to the public, since applications can no longer be seen on national newspapers as they have been shifted to the Government Gazette, while the ‘summary proceedings’ that has been introduced at the PA means that some applications are being processed without a public hearing, which we maintain is illegal. Furthermore, the two EPC boards which were composed of 10 members including non-practicing architects, planners and members of civil society, have now been reduced to one board, usually three people including a practicing architect and no members of the public.
“Turning to the Paceville master plan, Ms Vella said that it is perfectly clear to all members of the public that government is leaning towards developers. This had publicly been promised in the run up to the elections, which is why FAA came down so heavily against PL proposals prior to the 2013 elections.” 
Asked whether she believes the PA is a puppet of government, or whether they do their job, she said: “I believe this question was clearly answered by the Chamber of Planners when they stated ‘The Chamber is not privy to the way the master plans and such are formulated,…Unfortunately, there exists a misconception that the Planning Authority, its actions and decisions are always motivated by planning theory and principles or driven by planners. Regrettably, this is not the case.’” 
Questions following Astrid Vella’s opinion article have been sent to the Planning Authority.

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