Watershed moment in urban planning – Minister Aaron Farrugia

The planning and environment minister exhorted people to actively participate in the compilation of the strategic planning document SPED, saying that this is a make or break moment.

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Minister Aaron Farrugia said that the next edition of the planning blueprint for Malta will be issued in two years’ time. He said that this is a watershed moment, encouraging people to attend and actively participate in the consultations. “If we get this wrong now, then we are doomed for the next 50-60 years” warned the minister.  Speaking to Newsbook Q&A, the minister responsible for Planning and the Environment said that the option to draw up an interim Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) was discarded for a more informed and substantial document which would have also gone through an extensive consultation process.

For Minister Farrugia, consultation is a key factor. While he does not believe in devolving planning powers to local councils, he expressed his firm belief in the need to involve these local authorities more and in a mandatory fashion throughout the planning process. While acknowledging that one cannot please everyone, he said that the outreach to better explanations and more cogent rationales needs to be carried out. On this note, Minister Farrugia said that on-going meetings with established bodes such as the Malta Developers Association and the Kamra tal-Periti, as well as ENGOs have established bridges which can be nurtured.

Minister Aaron Farrugia

Up or across?

On the other hand, the minister was also clear: We have to decide: do we want tall buildings or do we not? Replying to the issue of the frequently horrible visual impact which these towering buildings have, Minister Farrugia said that the visual impact is inevitable. He added that the country must decide if it wants to build upwards or outwards as both these directions have their pros and cons. He said that if we want to spare the take-up of land and affirm our decision to go higher, then we need to direct our energies to better design.

From a planning point of view, Minister Farrugia said that contrary to the impression obtained by the citizens, every new piece of land that goes through the planning process, goes through an intense negotiation process. He said that while the architects of the client try to maximise the profits for their clients, the Planning Authority seeks to tug in the direction of what is best for the area. He said that while we are vey vocal armchair critics, the consultation processes are there to be used so that the end result is a better one for all.

Minister Farrugia said that developers also need to mature in their proposals for tall buildings. In reply to questions on the mis-application of the FAR policy, where the open spaces left are simply utilitarian and not designed for better quality of life and development, Minster Farrugia said that it is about time that developers go for more iconic buildings and “be prodder of their developments”.

No concept of space or design?

One of the main concerns among the public is the disappearing shade of green.Newsbook.com.mt asked the minister for this seeming lack of planning for sone fresh air, adding that greenery too has an economic value. Minister Aaron Farrugia said that his direction, wherever possible has been to go for the greener and less dense option for development. He said that the tools for the choice of low-density versus high-density development are already in the hands of the Planning Authority.

Acknowledging that the architects try to get the most out of the land for their developer and maximise the development. He said that ideally, the PA decides exactly how the land in question should be developed and the revision of the local plans should put paid to arbitrary proposals for development.

The village cores too need to be protected even is  “we are overprotective” of these areas. Minister Farrugia said that the transition between the village core principles and what is not village core needs to be managed better since at the moment the demarcation is too abrupt. He said that one can clearly understand people who say that their neighbours were granted five floors while they were restricted to two. This, he added, was also an issue for the Design Advisory Committee so that the areas of transition can be managed better.

Waste not

One of the main contributors to the waste stream is inert waste also known as construction waste. Minister Farrugia said that work is at an advanced stage at university to come up with a plan for making deconstruction and re-use of stone more commercially viable. He said that government was also aiming to build his developments from re-constituted stone so that the example can be set and developers can be given incentives for the re-use of stone.

This was one of the happier aspects of waste management. Minister Farrugia said that Malta had a long and uphill road where waste management and separation was concerned, adding that it was one of the lower ranking EU states. He added that on an infrastructural level the investment to change waste to a resource has been committed. He said on the level of strategy, this will soon be out for public consultation. Waste separation at the level of families too needs to gain more traction and on a commercial level this needs to be implemented.