The Planning Authority’s persistence in ignoring its obligations at law to consult primary stakeholders about proposed changes was leading to speculation that these were being presented to facilitate some yet-to-be announced development, the Kamra tal-Periti said has warned.

Referring to proposed amendments to the Development Notification Order, specifically regarding the introduction of two new classes of development, the Kamra said the obligation for consultation with the chambers of architects and planners had been entrenched in planning legislation for decades, and has been reiterated in the recent Development Planning Act.

It said it failed to understand why the Planning Authority persisted in ignoring its obligations at law, in a manner which was, to say the least, unacceptable.

“This lack of correct procedure in pushing forward these amendments leaves no option but to speculate that these are being presented to facilitate some yet-to-be announced development which would not normally have been permitted without the checks and balances afforded by the full development process.”

The very concept that whole classes of development were so important that they should be allowed without due process and oversight betrayed a worrying and persisting ignorance of the purpose of development planning control.

The Kamra asked why was it necessary for development carried out by the director of the Corradino Correctional Facility and by the Malta Police Force to be undertaken through the DNO process rather than through a full development application process or the summary application process, which was generally the norm for most types of new development.

It was also noted that should the minister responsible for the prisons or the police deem the development to be “urgently required for national security reasons”, the development could proceed even without going through the DNO process.

“Had the proposed changes referred exclusively to internal alterations within either police or correctional facilities, one could understand the reference to ‘urgency’ and DNO; but how could development, which is funded by public funds that have to be approved by Parliament, and procured via normal procurement regulations be so urgent as to make it impossible to allow time for planning scrutiny and oversight?”

Although the proposed amendments included an obligation for obtaining clearance from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Environment and Resources Authority in certain locations, they unnecessarily created scope for abuse.

“We are all painfully aware of the scar on the Valletta seafront created by the Armed Forces base at Hay Wharf, which circumvented all checks and balances because it was required “for national security reasons” – this development was allowed to take place under the same regulation regime that was being proposed for the prisons and the police force.

The complete disregard of the surrounding context manifested by the authorities and the minister responsible for the AFM with regard to the Hay Wharf building was a clear warning sign of what could happen when the floodgates were opened for unchecked development which took place in historic and natural landscapes.

Moreover, the DNO process was the only planning application process which did not involve public consultation, so the public would not have the opportunity to participate in the planning process and submit their views, objections, and suggestions.

These amendments, which did not set any sort of limitation on the size or type of development that could be undertaken through this process, opened the door to serious abuse if additional safeguards were not included, the chamber warned.