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PR 04/17 | Old Milk Plant in Xewkija, Gozo (2)

The Kamra tal-Periti welcomes with satisfaction the scheduling at Grade 2 level of the old Gozo MMU Milk Plant, which was designed by renowned architect Joseph Huntingford, and which includes a number of unique architectural elements inspired by the Modernist Movement.

In November 2016, the Kamra tal-Periti had drawn attention to this building which lies within the Xewkija Enterprise Hub, which area was undergoing a change in planning policy. The Kamra tal-Periti had called upon the Planning Authority to safeguard this building of significant architectural quality, particularly in view of the recent destruction of the administration block of the ex-Dowty factory in Mrieħel, which building was also designed in the Modernist Style and which was demolished following approval of such demolition by the Planning Authority.

The Kamra tal-Periti exhorts the Planning Authority to undergo a study of our industrial areas, which include a number of buildings in the same architectural style, and which merit protection and rehabilitation.

PR 03/17 | PA GeoServer

The Planning Authority has recently launched a new online geographic information system (GIS) that allows users to access planning data in a fast, efficient and user-friendly manner, particular when compared with the previous system that had been in place for a number of years.

The new GeoServer provides significant functionality, and will also allow for the sharing of data gathered by other departments and authorities.

The Kamra tal-Periti congratulates the Planning Authority on the launch of its new portal, particularly in view of its speed and the upgraded graphic representation of data.

PR 01/17 | Planning Authority eApplications launch

Over the past week, the Council of the Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers) has repeatedly requested the Planning Authority to issue a clear statement regarding the serious problems with the launch of its new online application portal, to confirm when the system will be fully functional, and to inform periti and the general public as to how it will be dealing with situations where deadlines, which are bound by legal timeframes, could not be met, as a result of the lack of functionality of the portal. Such statement has not been forthcoming. The Kamra is therefore issuing this statement in order to advise the public of the lack of accessibility being afforded to the profession, impeding periti from succesfully and confidently submitting and accessing documentation.

Towards the end of 2016, the Planning Authority announced that it would be launching an upgraded version of its online application portal, known as eApplications. The old system was shut down on the 23rd December 2016, and the Authority confirmed that the new version would be online and functional as of the 2nd January 2017.

However, this has not been the case, and periti have been unable to submit new applications, to download information from ongoing or decided applications, to submit correspondence and drawings to the Authority, and to generally provide their clients with services related to the eApplications portal.

The Kamra tal-Periti has communicated with the Authority on a daily basis on this matter over the past week, and acknowledged that one would expect some minor teething problems with any new system. However, the situation being faced by the profession is now far from being a minor issue, and the lack of formal communication by the Authority is unacceptable.

In accordance with legislation, planning applications are handled solely through the eApplications portal, and therefore the lack of functionality of such a system for the last two weeks is entirely unacceptable, as it is the sole means of communication with the Authority in this regard.

The Kamra tal-Periti therefore insists that the Planning Authority takes all necessary measures to ensure that the system is returned to normal without any further delay, and that the Authority issues the appropriate statements and assurances as repeatedly requested by the Kamra, with particular regard to the matter of exceeded deadlines.

PR 10/16 | Paceville Development Framework

The preparation of a Vision for Paceville is in itself a positive initiative. Independently of the content or approach, it is commendable that a draft Development Framework has been proposed which sets out a strategy for growth and for the regeneration of the area, plans staged improvements over time, reflects a change in the way urban planning and development ought to be studied, and future planning undertaken. Indeed, similar initiatives ought to be more frequent and should serve as an impetus for the mechanism to be encouraged in other areas, albeit under the umbrella of one strategic plan and vision for the nation as a whole, and not in an ad hoc and haphazard manner which raises more doubts than it proposes a clear vision that is of benefit to the whole of society. The fact that Government and the Planning Authority have appreciated that the drawing up of a comprehensive study is the best route to follow, augurs well for the future. Nevertheless, it is important that the planning exercise undertaken provides the sufficient level of detail and analysis required, and is carried out in tandem with other serious national planning issues such as transport and infrastructural requirements.

The focus on improvements in the public urban realm is absolutely correct. The extension of pedestrianised areas, and of shared surface treatment areas, is also a step in the right direction, even if more study is required to understand the impact on existing activities. The provision of open landscaped public spaces is laudable and the concept of preserving and valorising the heritage assets in the area is certainly a sound one.

It is a pity, therefore, that a laudable effort to “see the bigger picture” in a long-term perspective is diminished by a number of serious flaws in the Framework. The exercise seems to have degenerated into a justification of previously-determined development volumes, in previously determined locations. “The quantum of development proposed at Paceville” is accommodated but never challenged. Consequently, the “iconic skyline” is taken as an assumed desiderata. The urban design principles which are promoted in the document are of top quality, but the same principles seem to be contradicted by the scale of development proposed – which is never justified.

The Framework document is peppered with the right references to contemporary sustainable urban development principles. This is jargon found in textbooks on planning and urban design, but which mean nothing if not grounded in socio-economic and planning research. When assessing the detailed proposals, one struggles to understand how such principles implemented. There is reference, for example, to community facilities under the impressive heading of “social sustainability”, but nowhere is there any indication of what facilities would be provided. The document refers to “preserving the inheritance of local traditions” but makes no mention of what these traditions are.

The document suggests that social cohesion is the result of entrepreneurship and the tourism industry. This argument is highly debatable. Tourism is certainly not the best tool to foster social cohesion – on the contrary, it tends to erode community relationships, and hence social cohesion. In addition, development which emphasises social disparity does not strengthen cohesion.

A promising document, focusing on the need to improve the public urban realm, is crippled by the lack of social research and the judgmental propositions. The failure to consult, in any way, with residents and economic operators of Paceville, is a serious defect. The authors report a “number of site visits”, but otherwise do not explain the methodology followed in the assessment of the situation, and hence in the formulation of proposals. There is nothing in the document which suggests that the rights of residents and locals to partake of the “economic growth” that will result from the proposed development will be safeguarded.

The Development Framework proposes extensive expropriation of private land and property – assets that many people’s lives, homes, business and investments have been built upon, on the basis of the current legal frameworks. The document becomes highly discriminatory, focusing primarily on business interests that are already public – whilst not considering possible future developments of a similar or smaller scale elsewhere.

The Kamra tal-Periti has submitted its formal response (attached) to the Planning Authority as part of the ongoing public consultation process. This response outlines a number of matters that, in the opinion of the Kamra, require addressing before this document proceeds to being translated into a Local Plan for the area. These include the following primary concerns:

  1. that the document cannot and should not be presented as a Masterplan or a Local Plan review, but as a Development Framework as in fact presented by the authors themselves;
  1. that the draft fails to address the criteria established in the Terms of Reference provided to the consultants by the Planning Authority;
  1. that the framework conflicts with the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) in terms of the proposal for having tall buildings, the significant increase in residential and commercial floorspace, the adoption of low parking standards and the proposal of a significant land reclamation project;
  1. that the volumes and population density proposed have all the makings of a potential development bubble, with the allocation of space being proposed in a highly inequitable manner and with a complete lack of consideration for privately owned property, while at the same time allocating significant development potential to public land which is being therefore given to speculative purposes;
  1. that the submission of the draft to a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) process is highly premature and not in line with the regulatory procedures in this regard;
  1. that the document presents a number of shortcomings which are primarily a result of the fact that it is based on pre-established intentions, and there appears to have been little, if any, attempt to understand the problems, the assets, and the particular dynamics of the area with a view towards achieving a proposal which truly valorises those aspects which make Paceville unique, and to build on these in order to achieve a sustainable growth of the area which is founded on sound social, economic and environmental considerations;
  1. that while the Framework includes a number of good proposals regarding the infrastructure required to support the proposed development, these are proposed in isolation rather than being presented within a National Framework and Paceville appears to have been singled out for significant investment at the expense of other localities;
  1. that the transport strategy is flawed because it only addressed transport within the plan area and does not offer a coordinated approach taking into account access to and from Paceville;
  1. that while the Kamra tal-Periti is not contrary to the development of tall buildings, it cannot accept the absolute absence of any justification of either the volume, or the location of such tall buildings, and the fact that the authors appear to have assumed that the provision of such structures are the only solution to an “attractive, safe, efficient and environmental (sic) friendly place, where people live, work, play, and interact…..”;
  1. that the proposed development poses significant environmental concerns in terms of sustainability, material resources and waste generation which are not adequately address within the document;
  1. that considerations regarding financing, phasing and implementation of the Development Framework are essential but are not sufficiently elaborated upon, and the complete lack of cognisance of privately owned property in the area and the cumbersome legal procedures that would be required to acquire such property raises serious doubts about the achievability of this plan.

The Kamra tal-Periti is therefore of the opinion that, while this Development Framework has a number of positive aspects that bode well for a successful regeneration of the Paceville area, it also manifests a number of issues which are of concern and which require significant re-evaluation prior to moving this document forward for adoption as the basis of a Local Plan for the locality.

PR 09/16 | Old Milk Plant in Xewkija, Gozo

At the end of October, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Environment and Development Planning met to discuss proposed changes to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan, specifically with respect to the Xewkija Industrial Area in Gozo. The proposal concerned a large site which the Planning Authority was proposing to re-zone from its current use for “Agricultural Products Processing and Market” to general industrial purposes as part of the Xewkija Enterprise Hub.

While seemingly a run of the mill proposal, the Kamra tal-Periti noted that the site in question houses the old Gozo MMU Milk Plant, which was designed by renowned architect Joseph Huntingford, and which includes a number of unique architectural elements inspired by the Modernist Movement. The Committee discussed the possibility of inclusion of a safeguard within the new policy to ensure the protection of those architectural features that merit retention and preservation.

The Kamra tal-Periti expressed its agreement with the introduction of such a safeguard, particularly in view of the recent destruction of the administration block of the ex-Dowty factory in Mrieħel, which building was also designed in the Modernist Style and which was demolished following approval of such demolition by the Planning Authority. Evidently, the appreciation of our architectural heritage from this period is sorely lacking, and therefore the Kamra tal-Periti exhorts the Minister to consent to the introduction of a safeguard in the policy for the Xewkija Enterprise Hub, such that those elements of the building that merit protection may be integrated within any new development proposal for the site.

PR 08/16 | Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations, 2016

In May 2016, the Kamra tal-Periti had submitted its formal reactions to the draft Legal Notice regarding regularisation of property. It had expressed its opinion that the draft regulations included too many lacunae and vague requirements, and that it would be appropriate for the legislator to enter into specific consultation with the Kamra, as required by legislation, prior to the promulgation of these regulations. The Kamra also expressed its fears that these regulations will open the door to severe blots in our built landscape, and will serve to promote the laissez faire attitude of certain developers by condoning providing a mechanism for illegalities to become legal.

Although this procedure was presented by the Planning Authority to the profession during a recent information meeting organised by the Kamra tal-Periti for its members, it is with regret that the Kamra tal-Periti notes no specific discussions were undertaken to address such concerns, and that most of the concernrs raised have not been addressed. These include:

  • the fact that the Legal Notice contains many vague statements which give the impression that anything can be regularised, making no distinction between minor irregularities (such as those previously covered by a CTB Concessions) and major ones;
  • the term ‘regularisation’ itself is not defined, neither in the Legal Notice, nor in the main Act;
  • there appears to be no provision for public consultation on individual applications, nor for consultation with various authorities such as the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the National Commission for Persons with Disability, and others;
  • there appears to be no mechanism for third parties to register an interest in an application unless they had previously reported the illegality to the Authority, and third parties do not have a right of appeal;
  • although some media reports have given the indication that decisions on these applications will be taken at public sittings of the Planning Board, this provision is not specifically stipulated in the Legal Notice;
  • while ODZ properties have been excluded, properties which are located within Urban Conservation Areas or which are themselves scheduled have not been excluded;
  • the main criterion on the basis of which the Authority will determine an application is whether or not it constitutes an ‘injury to amenity’, which is an entirely subjective criterion that it open to wide interpretation;
  • if an application is refused, the applicant is refunded a percentage of the fees of the application, however there is no obligation for the Authority to issue an enforcement notice and/or to request the removal of the illegality.

All of the above observations, and others already published by the Kamra tal-Periti during the public consultation phase, render these new regulations unclear and widely open to interpretation. Above all, they also fail to address the importance of promoting quality of our building stock by allowing illegalities which fall well below the minimum requirements of established regulations to be regularised and made legal.

PR 03/16 | Planning Authority’s reply unsatisfactory

The Kamra tal-Periti notes that the Planning Authority’s reply to its press release of the 11th May 2016 enters into a long-winded recount of various meetings held with the Kamra over the past months. However it blatantly fails to comment on the subject of the Kamra’s statement, namely that the revocation of the Development Notification Order (DNO) was carried out without consultation with the Kamra tal-Periti, and this in breach of the Development Planning Act.

The Planning Authority is reminded that, at no point during the meetings held this year did it consult with the Kamra tal-Periti about the intention to revoke the Order in its entirety leaving a legal vacuum in the interim. The Kamra tal-Periti denies having been consulted on the new draft Development Order and on the revocation of the 2007 Order, and reiterates that this is a specific obligation of the Executive Council of the Planning Authority arising from the Development Planning Act.

The Planning Authority also failed to comment on the fact that as of Monday 9th May 2016 it was not accepting new DNO submissions, leaving the profession and the public in the dark as to when and how the new DNO regulations will be promulgated. This means that until such time as the new regulations are in place, certain works which were considered as permitted development under the Order, such as minor internal alterations, cannot be undertaken today since this would constitute illegal development in view of the revocation of the Order which regulated these types of works.