The role of land and sea use planning
To date, the accessible part of the Maltese coastline has been modified and extensively used by a variety of uses all competing for space and resources. Being a nation state with a population of more than 400,000, Malta has to be self-sufficient and provide for all the socio-economic needs that a country requires. Coastal uses within the Maltese Islands vary from structural development that requires such a location for its operational purposes (e.g. thermal power station, ports) to structural development that benefits from a coastal location but does not necessitate such space for its operation (e.g. hotels, non-water related sports grounds). There are uses found on the coast simply because the nature of the exploitable resource happens to be on the coast (e.g. mineral extraction). The majority of these uses, whether they necessitate a coastal location or not, have been developed in a manner that has not considered the implications they may have on natural resources, processes and ultimately, other uses.
The management of the coastal zone is the remit of several agencies and institutions having jurisdiction over particular geographical areas or uses within the coast. Spatial planning is one tool that can assist in identifying a strategic approach towards sustainable development of the coastal environment. The current Structure Plan calls for a Coastal Management Plan and provides for measures to address coastal development. The Development Planning Act has extended development control beyond the coast to the marine environment, thus enabling MEPA to address coastal development in a more integrated way.
During the review of the current Structure Plan a Coastal Strategy Topic Paper was prepared to identify those coastal issues that can be managed through the development planning process, within the new Structure Plan. The Paper highlights the need that effective planning and use of the coastal zone depends on a solid understanding of the natural processes and systems affecting this dynamic area and calls for measures to minimise spatial conflicts by ensuring that activities necessitating a coastal location are not displaced by uses that can easily be located elsewhere. The Topic Paper also identifies those issues that would require management under a much wider national management strategy such as the exploitation of marine resources, pollution control and the creation and management of protected areas.
The most significant outputs of the Topic Paper was the definition of the coastal zone within the Maltese Islands which extends up to 12 nautical miles offshore and a proposed strategy directed to this geographical space. For the first time, development at sea is also being addressed in a strategic manner.
The proposed coastal strategy is based on a refined zoning scheme building upon the existing development zones to direct development in accordance with the following set of objectives:
1. protect coastal and marine habitats and biodiversity
2. protect cultural heritage
3. protect coastal uses that necessitate a coastal location
4. promote and protect public access and use
5. minimise existing and potential user conflicts
In directing what type and scale of development can take place and where, the proposed strategy is envisaged to provide a policy direction within the new Structure Plan that safeguards the coastal zone in the Maltese Islands from losing its varying characteristics, both natural and cultural while retaining, encouraging and safeguarding legitimate coastal uses that depend and rely upon this diversity. The coastal strategy has been taken on board in the preparation of the approved Local Plans.
Other ICZM tools in Malta
ICZM is a dynamic process that requires different actions from different stakeholders. As policy co-ordination is an important element for sustainable use of the coastal and marine space MEPA is continuously working to ensure that in meeting its environmental obligations this integrated approach to policy co-ordination is maintained. Several measures assist the implementation of coastal zone management. These include:
- Continued updating on the state of the coastal and marine environment and its uses. MEPA has been an active partner in the Interreg IIIc project, DEDUCE, which aimed to develop sustainability indicators for the European coastal zone in line with the EU ICZM Recommendation. Updates are also undertaken for the SOER process.
- Development of national strategies for effective use of natural resources, such as biodiversity and water
- Development of management plans for nature conservation and reducing user conflict such as beach management.
- Environmental Assessment of plans and projects
- Permitting of coastal activities
- Environmental Monitoring of development projects and routine environmental monitoring of coastal waters.