Planning is for people: from Mosta via Iklin to Mqabba

I recall the first lectures on urban studies, when I was still a student: our lecturer, the late Perit André Zammit used to emphasise that “planning is for people”. 

The concerns and views of people are of paramount importance in determining all land use planning issues. There is a need for the participation of the public in decision-taking. The top-down nature of land use planning is of concern: most prefer an alternative scenario based on their continuous involvement in decisions concerning their surroundings and impacting their daily life. This, after all, is practical subsidiarity.

Some things never change. We are no different from others. All of us detest imposition and rebel when decisions are paternalistically imposed from the top-down.

Such was the case in Mosta earlier this week when in the space of 24 hours the Mosta Local Council made a colossal U-turn and revoked a unanimous decision of the Local Council to uproot existing trees in the Mosta square and replant them elsewhere. Had the Local Council been decent enough to consult with the local population in good time, it would have arrived at the correct decision much earlier. No need for prodding by Robert Abela!

Matters are moving in the same direction in Mqabba.

I have been alerted to a specific pending planning application in Mqabba (PA6976/21). This application seeks the relocation of a tarmac and concrete batching plant from Ħal-Far to an existing Mqabba quarry, close to the residential area. A report recommending the approval of the application has been drawn up by the Planning Authority case officer. In this report it is stated that no consultation reply was received from the Mqabba Local Council on this application. As is standard practice, this non-reply is considered as a no objection to the proposed development.

The manner in which planning applications are notified to the public is slightly odd.  Fixing a site notice on site may be reasonable when dealing with an urban property. However, in the case of a property which is some 500 metres away from the urban footprint, such site notices serve to notify no one, except maybe a stray dog or cat. Hence the Local Council, in such cases is the only entity actually notified of the development under consideration. In these circumstances the responsibility of the Local Council is enormous.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) in reports submitted to the Planning Authority has indicated that it has no objection to the proposed development. In so doing it has ignored the impacts resulting from emissions to air and odours as well as the impacts of dust dispersal from openly stored stone aggregate subject to wind action.

Apparently, ERA has learned nothing from the impacts of the Tal-Balal tarmac plant on the residential community of l-Iklin.

The question to which we seek an answer thus assumes greater significance: why did the Mqabba Local Council fail to reply to the Planning Authority consultation request? Why did it fail to engage with the Planning Authority and the developer on the application and its impact on the residents close by?

The site for the proposed development lies outside the development zone (ODZ). It may also be argued that ODZ is the appropriate place for such a development. This line of thought is not however necessarily correct. In fact, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage was a lone voice in the wilderness objecting to the said proposed development, emphasising the need to rehabilitate the existing quarry. This is a proposal worth considering notwithstanding that the Planning Authority has shot it down.

The Local Council of Mqabba has been absent from the debate on the proposed development for reasons which are, so far, unknown. I will not speculate as to the possible reasons for this, as it would be unfair on my part to do so. An explanation is however due to the residential community, less than 500 metres away from the proposed tarmac plant.

Local Councils are alerted regularly by the Planning Authority on applications submitted within their locality boundaries, for their consideration. This makes the non-engagement of the Mqabba Local Council even worse, as it was aware of the application submitted but ignored it.

The proposed development is now recommended for approval. However, the views of the residential community have not been factored in as the Mqabba local Council has been silent on the matter.

We have the tools to engage. Making our voice heard and communicating our concerns is the least we can do. When the Mqabba Local Council failed to make its voice heard on behalf of the residential community it represents it sent a clear message: it does not care.

Is this what the Mqabba Local Council has been elected for?

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 19 November 2023