The much debated and long awaited MEPA reform proposal is being discussed by Parliament while work has begun in earnest to ensure that the extensive reform process is carried out successfully. OUTLOOK takes a look at the steps that have been taken so far and outlines the way forward in this challenging project.
The reform itself is an extensive project that will bring about widespread change to the organisational framework of the Authority, with the aim of making it more consistent, more accountable, more efficient and in a position to actively enforce its decisions. For a reform of this magnitude to be successful, it is critical that the reform will be gradual and implemented in a number of phases to ensure a seamless process. Discussions, decisions and the subsequent legislative amendments will all need to be given their due attention and while the process certainly can-not be delayed, neither can it be rushed, if it is to be a success. The process started off with one year of consultation which brought all stakeholders, constituted bodies, MEPA employees, NGOs and government entities together to discuss their views on the reform.
Following this extensive period of discussion, the MEPA Reform Document was published on 2nd July 2009, and a National Conference to gather further feedback on the proposals was subsequently organised at the end of July 2009. Following the National Conference, the work continued with the preparation of the new MEPA legal framework, which was concluded and approved by Cabinet on 7th December 2009.
Following the meticulous examination of the processing of planning applications, the Authority is now in discussions with the Kamra tal-Periti (KTP) on establishing an agreed modus operandi which will ensure that development applications are decided within an acceptable and realistic time frame.
The Planning Process, together with the proposed time frames, will now start distinguishing between applications that are Simple (Inside Scheme – 12 weeks; Outside Scheme – 26 weeks), Complex (Inside Scheme – 26 weeks; Outside Scheme – 52 weeks) and Major Projects.
It is also proposed that the planning application process is subdivided into 3 main functions:
1. Pre-Screening Process
2. Validation ProcesS
3. Planning Application Process and Decision.
Another aspect that is being tackled as part and parcel of the reform is human resources. The selection process for the members of the Environment and Planning Commissions (EPCs) that will be replacing the Development Control Commissions (DCCs) has started. The Bill is proposing that members will be appointed on a full time basis for a four-year term.
To ensure as wide a representation as possible, even if the qualification requirements remain stringent, government decided to issue a national call for members of the public who were interested in being appointed on these Commissions.
A number of initiatives are also being carried out to fill the post of Director of Enforcement – a post which will establish a new directorate within the Authority to ensure that policies and decisions are safeguarded and respected.
Another interesting development concerns the Environment Protection Directorate. Following a meticulous assessment, an additional 45 new staff members will join the Directorate in the coming weeks.
The Authority is currently working on setting up a Customer Care Unit that will be directly responsible for all the interface customers have with the Authority. The aim in this regard is to ensure that all MEPA’s customers are given the assistance they require without any delays and to the highest levels of efficiency.
MEPA REFORM PROCESS TO DATE – KEY POINTS:
- The Planning Process, together with the proposed time frames will now start distinguishing between applications that are:
1. Simple (Inside Scheme – 12 weeks; Outside Scheme – 26 weeks)
2. Complex (Inside Scheme – 26 weeks; Outside Scheme – 52 weeks) and
3. Major Projects
- It is being proposed that the planning application process is subdivided into 3 main functions:
1. Pre-Screening Process
2. Validation Process
3. Planning Application Process and Decision
- The Environment and Planning Committee (EPC) will be replacing the Development Control Commission (DCC). Members of the EPC will be selected on a four-year, full-time basis.
- A new post for Director of Enforcement has been created, with the task of ensuring that policies and decisions are safeguarded and respected.
- The Environment Protection Directorate staff complement is to be increased by nearly 50 per cent with the addition of 45 new officers.