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MALTATODAY 26 September 2021

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 26 SEPTEMBER 2021 NEWS JAMES DEBONO THE PN has backtracked on a previous declaration by its leader Bernard Grech and later reiterated in official press statements, to propose a two-thirds ma- jority in the House when major projects are to be permitted outside the develop- ment zones. The PN is now saying it will propose changes to the Planning Authority's ru- ral development policy, for a new rural plan that will regulate development in the Maltese countryside. The new 'rural plan' will be drafted fol- lowing widespread public consultation, contain a clear classification of what type of development can be allowed outside development zones, to permit genuine agricultural structures, and ex- clude speculative developments like the university campus proposed at Żonqor in 2015. "Genuine developments like rubble walls, country roads, reservoirs, agricul- tural structures and livestock farms will continue to be allowed and permitted by Planning Authority but projects like those of Sadeen in Żonqor will not. Such developments would require a change in the rural plan, which will require two- thirds majority support in Parliament. So it is the change in plan that needs to go to Parliament, not the planning ap- plication itself," a PN spokesperson told MaltaToday. The PN says this mechanism will en- sure that extensive rural land is only used in truly exceptional circumstanc- es of national importance agreed to by both government and opposition. In this way the PN insists that it is "showing, through facts, how we can tie even our own hands once in govern- ment." But when announcing the policy, Bernard Grech specifically referred to 'projects' requiring a two-thirds major- ity, giving an impression that individual projects would end up being approved by parliament. "As leader of a PN government, I would ensure that ODZ land is pro- tected with a two-thirds parliamentary majority. ODZ land will only be used for development, following approval by a two-thirds majority, for projects that benefit the community, such as a school or a hospital," he said, adding that a PN government would not repeat past mis- takes. The declaration raised concerns that parliament would end up discussing mi- nor and bona fide rural developments. Subsequently the PN clarified that only major projects deemed to be in the 'na- tional interest' will require a two-thirds majority. In an official statement last week, the PN reaffirmed Grech's commitment that "no ODZ land would be developed if the project is not approved by a two- thirds majority in parliament" while making it clear that agricultural devel- opments permissible today would re- main so in the future. But in reply to questions by MaltaTo- day, the PN has now come up with a more coherent – albeit less controver- sial mechanism – which excludes any parliamentary discussions on individual planning applications, limiting parlia- ment's role to approving PA decisions that deviate from the rural development policy, as was the proposed Żonqor campus. MaltaToday specifically asked the PN to state which criteria and thresholds will be determining which ODZ projects would require parliamentary approv- al or not; which entity will determine which projects need to go to parliament or not; and whether the vote in parlia- ment take place before or after the com- pletion of the full planning process and a vote in the PA board. It also asked the PN to state whether projects refused by the PA can still be approved by a two- thirds majority. The PN has yet to draft a rural plan which includes a new classification of ODZ land and what can be allowed on it, and promises to do this after con- sulting with stakeholders. "The starting point would be to set out a vision for Malta's unbuilt area via a holistic rural plan which will give new classifications to the land and the type of development allowed. This would be done following widespread consultation with all stake- holders," a spokesperson said. The PN says that the aim of this ru- ral plan would be that of ensuring that ODZ land is protected from speculative development, that agricultural land is protected for agricultural use, and that the development needs of even Natura 2000 sites – such as a ranger's shed – are all taken into consideration. Presently ODZ development is regu- lated by the Spatial Plan for the Environ- ment and Development (SPED) and the rural policy guidelines approved in 2015. The SPED contains a generic loophole PN's two-thirds proposal is for rural policy, 'not projects' PN backtracks on two-thirds majority rule for planning by fine-tuning proposal for holistic rural development policy that excludes speculative development in countryside PN leader Bernard Grech

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