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MALTATODAY 12 June 2022

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 12 JUNE 2022 NEWS JAMES DEBONO MALTA is officially the only country among 39 original sig- natories of the European Land- scape Convention to have not ratified and incorporated the treaty in its laws. Maltese officials keep drag- ging their feet on ratification of the Convention, which is enacted by the Council of Eu- rope. Although no panacea to the over-development crisis in Malta, it does set a legal frame- work to value, manage and pro- tect landscapes, and this is not limited to outstanding views but also to neighbourhoods. But 22 years after Malta signed the convention, the En- vironment and Resources Au- thority – which was tasked with spearheading the process lead- ing to the ratification – is still conducting its assessments. When asked by MaltaToday to state whether there are any obstacles to ratification, an ERA spokesperson simply re- plied that "the relevant assess- ment is still ongoing on this matter". What is sure is that there are no international objections to Malta becoming party of the convention. "Malta will be welcome when national au- thorities decide to ratify the Convention," Maguelonne Dé- jeant-Pons, executive secretary of the European Landscape Convention, told MaltaToday. The Superintendence for Cul- tural for Heritage, which often cites the country's obligations under the Convention when objecting to ove-rdevelop- ment, is also being consulted in this assessment process. But a spokesperson for the SCH confirmed that its role in the process is that of "a consultant" and it is not the official body responsible for the ratification process. The SCH annual report for 2020 refers to the fact that Malta is now the only coun- try to have signed but not yet ratified the European Land- scape Convention. According to the report, discussions have so far focused on the resourc- es required by the entities re- sponsible "for the continuous reporting and monitoring" af- ter ratification and on whether legal changes are required. The SCH was also seeking a recog- nition of "underground cultur- al landscapes" which although not visible from the ground, also merit protection. Malta was one of the original signatories in 2000 but failed to ratify the Convention in 2010. Iceland, which signed the con- vention in 2012 had proceeded to ratify it in December 2019, leaving Malta the only signato- ry not to have ratified it. People at the heart of the convention The Convention is consid- ered revolutionary as it recog- nised that local, everyday and even degraded landscapes are as likely to be of importance to the communities – or cultures – who inhabit them or the peo- ple who visit them as those which are commonly labelled as globally important. One salient feature of the convention is that of putting the people at the heart of land- scape policy. A major innovation is the definition of "landscape quality objectives", meaning, for a spe- cific landscape, the formulation by the competent authorities of the aspirations of the public with regard to the landscape features of their surroundings. The European Landscape Con- vention obliges signatories not just to protect protected her- itage buildings, but to respect the wider cultural landscapes and the collective memories of people who inhabit them. The Convention sets great store by identifying and as- sessing landscapes through field research by professionals working in conjunction with local inhabitants. Each land- scape forms a blend of compo- nents and structures: types of territories, social perceptions and ever-changing natural, so- cial and economic forces. Once this identification work has been completed and the land- scape quality objectives set, the landscape can be protected, managed or developed. Parties to the Convention undertake to provide legal rec- ognition for the value of land- scapes, to ensure that partic- ipatory procedures are put in place to establish and imple- ment protective policies, and that landscape is integrated into land-use planning policies. Moreover, committees of ex- perts appointed by the Council of Europe are "responsible for monitoring the implementa- tion of the Convention". In practical term, the conven- tion is also reflected in legis- lation adopted by signatories. For example in 2004 the Cata- lan parliament approved a law for the protection, manage- ment and planning of all the territory of Catalonia: both to the natural, rural, forest, urban and peripheral areas and to sin- gular landscapes such as every- day and degraded landscapes, whether inland or on the coast. The Landscape Observatory was set up as an advisory body of the Government of Cata- lonia in landscape matters. It issued landscape catalogues which identify different land- scape units understood as areas which have the same landscape character, which are a reflec- tion of the natural, cultural, historic and symbolic diversity to be found in every corner of Catalonia. This was done following pub- lic consultation with the peo- ple living in these landscapes. Subsequently the protection of these landscapes is integrated in the region's town and plan- ning regulations. In 2004 the Planning Author- ity had taken steps to fulfil the requirements of the Conven- tion by conducting a landscape assessment study which had identified that over 51% of the Maltese Islands had high or very high landscape sensitivity. This led to the designation of more areas in Malta as "Areas of Landscape Value". But experts still noted short- comings when it came to broadening landscape manage- ment and protection with re- gards to seascapes and "every- day and degraded" landscapes. 22 years later, Malta alone in not ratifying European Landscape Convention Assessment of ratification of European Landscape Convention signed by Malta in 2000 still ongoing The Convention is considered revolutionary as it recognised that local, everyday and even degraded landscapes are as likely to be of importance to the communities – or cultures – who inhabit them or the people who visit them as those which are commonly labelled as globally important

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