Construction / Unsplash

The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry has warned that fragmented reviews of planning policies could result in increased misapplication and potential abuse of both new and present policies.

This was highlighted in a statement published on Wednesday (today) in reaction to the ongoing piecemeal review process of the second phase of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 (DC15).

The DC15 document introduced a controversial system of establishing building heights by converting the number of floors set out in the Local Plans into meterage, which would then be re-converted back to floors according to a table laid out in Annex Two.

This has completely changed Malta’s skyline, with legal workarounds allowing buildings to rise well above the streetscape in what has been described as ‘pencil developments’.

The policy has been challenged in court, with a landmark decision by the Chief Justice in 2023 clarifying that the new height limits at the end of the day were limitations, and so not any permit for that height has to be granted.

In response to this, the Planning Authority (PA) announced a proposed amendment to the policy in a bid to “enhance certainty and eliminate potential discrepancies resulting from varied interpretations of the policy.”

A potential change in policy has been strongly criticised by a number of environmental organisations and politicians.

Despite the criticism, the Malta Development Association (MDA) argued that the proposed amendment “only seeks to clarify what was already established in the Local Plan of 2006 as followed by the DC15 document which reflects how the height of buildings is to be interpreted.”

Malta Chamber’s concerns

In a statement, the Malta Chamber expressed its concerns regarding the review of the DC15 document, as issued for public consultation by the PA.

The Malta Chamber stressed that “fragmented reviews can lead to increased speculation, misinterpretation, misapplication, and potential abuse of both the new policies and those already in place.”

It added that this approach “risks perpetuating the current ‘pick-and-choose’ policy framework, which undermines cohesive and effective planning.”

The Malta Chamber reaffirmed that its position is that a holistic approach to planning “is not optional, but essential to the Maltese Islands.” It stated that this call has been repeatedly highlighted in its 2022 Pre-National Election Manifesto and Pre-Budget Documents.

“The Malta Chamber insists that the country must transition from sporadic policy development and amendments to comprehensive planning strategies that encompass all aspects of development,” it continued.

The business lobby noted that proper planning extends beyond building heights or floor numbers, as it also needs to take into consideration Malta’s aesthetics and infrastructure, particularly the impact on utilities, sewage, parking facilities, waste management, road networks, and traffic.

“A holistic approach must evaluate these elements in conjunction with the country’s carrying capacity, economic vision, and the overall quality of life for a well-being society,” it added.

The Malta Chamber proceeded to urge Government to “swiftly address” three key areas.

Firstly, it called for a revision of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), which should be based on a thorough carrying capacity study “to ensure a sustainable business environment and a well-being society.” The revision needs to consider the built environment, natural environment, heritage, history, and Maltese culture.

It also urged Government to draft a National Architecture Policy, an Aesthetics Policy, and a Landscape Policy.

The Malta Chamber said that these three policies are “urgently needed” in order to foster a sense of cohesiveness and harmony in planning design, including skylines. “Strict adherence to these policies is crucial,” it emphasised.

Lastly, it pointed out that there needs to be a futureproofing of Malta’s building stock in order to withstand the impacts of climate change, thus ensuring resilience and sustainability.

“The Malta Chamber strongly believes that persisting with sporadic policy amendments goes against the basic principle of sustainable development. A holistic approach to Malta’s development planning is indispensable for ensuring proper, ethical, and responsible governance.”

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