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Environment NGOs question if the MEPA reform is working?

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Environment NGOs question if the MEPA reform is working?NGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gozo University Group, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement and Ramblers Association of Malta said in a statement this afternoon that they “are extremely concerned about the way that the hearing on the Xewkija Supermarket was handled, in spite of the fact that the majority of the members of the Environment and Planning Commission had serious objections to this project. This has significant implications as it ensures that we continue to uglify Malta in spite of all the positive policies enshrined in MEPA reform the National Environment Policy.”

The NGOs said that during this week’s MEPA hearing on the Xewkija supermarket, members of the Environment and Planning Commission (EPC) raised three fundamental objections:

“The LIDL store is going to be situated on a main road which is going to create a dangerous situation due to lack of turning space within the car park. Trailers will have to manoeuvre several times into oncoming traffic in a dangerous section of this road in order to enter and exit the outlet. It was also pointed out by the Commission that the traffic impact study had not been carried out by a traffic professional.”

The NGOs commented that “one of the members of the Commission repeatedly stated that the size of the plot was too limited for the various requirements of the project. The customer parking areas planned for different sides of the site would cause traffic problems. As had been maintained by NGOs, it was said that alternative locations should have been sought.”

“The Commission pointed out that while the area was indicated for “mixed use” the relevant Local Plan policy specifically omitted supermarkets from the list of indicated uses whereas it was included in other areas. This was taken to mean that this area was deemed unsuitable for a supermarket,” the NGOs said.

Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gozo University Group, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement and Ramblers Association of Malta said that they appreciate the fact that the EPC studied the case in detail, however three more fundamental policies were ignored:

“MEPA policy indicates that such supermarkets have to be situated within 100 metres of a town centre which is not the case here.

MEPA indicates that a Retail Impact Study should be carried out. This would see what effect the opening of a major new outlet would have on existing outlets and how best the situation could be managed. By acceding to the developers’ claims that such a study was preferable but not obligatory, the EPC is abiding by the letter and not the spirit of the law; by limiting its approach to one word, the Commission is missing the bigger picture.

The National Environment Policy and the proposed Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development all indicate that new developments should be located in existing buildings or an already-developed footprint, and not virgin ground, even if within the development boundaries. What is the use of publishing such policies if they are ignored by MEPA itself?”

The NGOs maintain that it “makes far more sense to place a supermarket in one of the many empty properties in Gozo, including one right next door, rather than building on virgin fields. This would serve to save Gozo’s landscapes, boost tourism and protect employment, a win-win solution for all.”

At Friday’s hearing, the NGOs said that the “majority of the members of the Commission objected to this project for the fundamental reasons listed above and yet the pro-development Chairman deferred the session in order to allow the developer more time to re-submit his project. It is exactly this approach that makes it easy for developers to continue uglifying our islands by building on virgin land without the need to exhaust all possibilities of using existing vacant premises.”

“The MEPA Board has recently taken several very sensible decisions, however most permits are processed at a lower level where the recommendations of a pro-development Major Projects Unit and a pro-development Chairman of an Environment Planning Commission defeat the whole scope of MEPA reform,” the statement concluded.

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