MEPA Watch | Sunday, 13 September 2009
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Robert Musumeci’s observations on the proposed MEPA reform – part 10


At present, a potential developer who intends to embark on a project, but who is not certain whether MEPA would grant the necessary permits due to the complex nature of the project, may seek approval in principle, through an outline development permit. In other words, outline development applications are a means whereby potential developers have the opportunity to ‘sound out’ MEPA on the feasibility of a particular development without having to engage in the full set of costly studies. Once an outline permit is issued the permit conditions serve as a guiding platform and the applicant may proceed with the submission of a full development application in the safe knowledge that works can commence if the proposal satisfies the conditions set out in the outline permit.
To my surprise, the proposed reform framework is suggesting that each time MEPA issues an outline permit, it is committing itself to granting a permit at a stage in which many of the details about a development are not yet known, to which end it is being proposed to abolish the current outline mechanism process. In fact the proposed reform framework is suggesting the following measures:
Replace the outline development application mechanism with the provision of a Planning and Environmental Brief which would be formulated by MEPA top management officials in consultation with the applicant. This Brief would include parameters such as siting, scale and layout, as well as, the potential need for environmental impact studies that test the Brief’s impact on the environment. The Brief would also stipulate a validity date by which the applicant would need to submit a full development application. This Brief will be binding on MEPA for a given period of time. This process is more resource intensive and will hence carry a higher administrative fee and subsequently a number of hours of consultation fees over and above an established minimum. The development of the Brief should be targeted not to exceed a period of 12 months from the date of commencement of discussions. This Brief would be drawn on the basis of a set of parameters characterizing the proposed development such as siting, scale, layout and any other parameter deemed appropriate by the Directors’ team. During these discussions, MEPA will also assign a validity date by which the applicant would need to submit a full development application. Should the applicant fail to submit the application within these timeframes, the Brief would become invalid. The validity date will be established on a case by case basis. However, it shall not exceed a period of three years.

Robert Musumeci’s observations

The justification behind this proposal is based on the pretext that outline development permits may condition future land use priorities which might change in the period by which a full development application is approved.
In truth, the current system already provides a mechanism whereby outline development permits are subject to a validity date by which the applicant would need to submit a full development application. In any case, if MEPA commits itself through either an outline permit or a development brief, MEPA is equally bound by such commitment in both cases.
unregulated discretion may provide room for alleged corruption , especially when the criteria for bureaucratic decisions are unclear and difficult to monitor and evaluate.
In reality, an outline permit is subject to the normal application process, where the application is subject to public consultation and the Directorate’s recommendation can be publicly overruled by an independent decision body (DCC). On the other hand the proposed changes suggest that a commitment can be made between the applicant and the Directorate through a brief to the latter’s discretion without applicant having the opportunity to contest the outcome of such discretion! Unfortunately, unregulated discretion may provide room for alleged corruption, especially when the criteria for bureaucratic decisions are unclear and difficult to monitor and evaluate. For this reason, the outline application mechanism should be retained for the sake of transparency.

Next week MEPAWATCH will focus on the reform and Development Notification Orders.


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