Din l-Art Helwa, in a statement this morning, said that it continues to be “extremely concerned that the Rural Policy and Design Guidelines  as recently adopted, have not been appropriately assessed in terms of the potential negative environmental effects on our countryside.”
DLH stated that it favours the reuse and rehabilitation of existing legally built buildings for farming and agricultural purposes, including associated uses such as wineries, olive oil production and honey making industry.
“However, while rural areas were previously strictly a no-go area as far as construction was concerned, the newly adopted policy goes totally in the other direction and actually promotes development.”
“Of great concern is that Special Areas of Conservation and of High Landscape Value are also endangered as the policy leaves room for building to occur in previously scheduled areas. The term Out of Development Zone is no more,” says the NGO.
DLH added that it is particularly concerned with the extent of concreting of fields and country paths which will automatically stem from construction. “Inevitably the implementation of accessibility and infrastructural services will follow in the wake of all new building activity.”
The most serious threat to rural areas, says the NGO, and the widest departure from previous policies, arise from the Agritourism Policy 4.4 which allows the possibility of new build up to a total area of 400sqm without specifying a maximum building height.
“Many of these decisions will be left to the discretion of the new Planning Authority Board whose responsibility it will be to determine the impact on the landscape. Whilst in some cases maximum floor space is regulated, maximum building height is not.”
This, says Din l-Art Helwa, “not only gives rise to potential abuse, but may result in our natural topography being peppered with 2 and 3 storey new buildings.”
“The new Guidelines ridicule the very concept of Out of Development Zones and indicate that this government is facilitating the wishes of development lobby groups at the expense of Malta’s natural landscape.,” the NGO said. “The Guidelines make a mockery of MEPA’s own introductory statement which asserts that they have been drawn up “to ensure proper conservation and management of the countryside for both present and future generations.”
Din l-Art Helwa called on the Minister of the Environment to “answer to the country as to how this can possibly be called good environmental governance and to commit publicly that environmental protection is to be guaranteed when the new Planning and Environment agencies will sit within different ministries.”
Photograph by Alain Salvary