MEPA Watch | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Robert Musumeci’s analysis of MEPA decisions

The Delimara extension

On Wednesday evening, Parliament held an emergency debate on the power station extension, ahead of a MEPA hearing which was due to be held the day after (on Thursday). The Labour Opposition tabled a motion requesting an urgent debate on the issue in Parliament, and requested MEPA to postpone the scheduled MEPA hearing, pending the outcome of the Auditor-General’s investigations.
During the debate, a Labour MP alleged that the report prepared by MEPA case officer is seriously flawed, for which reason he added that MEPA should postpone the hearing. The same MP insisted that although the case officer’s report made reference to the ‘best available technology’, the proposed selected equipment was untested. Labour also argued that the equipment was selected before the environment impact assessment was concluded.
Needless to say, there is nothing wrong on the part of the Opposition to express concern on a matter of National importance. That said, it would be very dangerous if parliament interferes in the workings of the Authority. After all, parliament is officially represented on the MEPA Board and matters affecting a planning decision can be addressed before the MEPA Board prior to a decision. Indeed, a decision was taken on Thursday by the MEPA Board as scheduled, with the full participation of the two members of parliament who sit on the Board.
The application which was considered (and approved) on Thursday was an outline development permit. The Structure Plan (through POLICY BEN 8) provides that “intending applicants for permission to develop are advised to consider applications for outline permits which establish the principles and general characteristics of a development proposal before the applicant is faced with the expense of the more detailed application for a full permit to develop.”
In other words, an outline permit gives approval in principle to the proposed development, but specifies reserved matters which need to be included in a full permit application or applications. A time is given within which full permit applications shall be submitted – otherwise the outline permit becomes invalid. However, no development may commence without a full permit.
In simple terms, the outline permit establishes the development in principle and the prospective developer may still not commence with the works. This signifies that the concerns raised by Labour in parliament remain subject to an independent environmental permit (IPPC) which must be carried out once the full development application is submitted. Even so, any change in equipment would necessitate a fresh Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The outcome of the amended EIA would determine the outcome of the eventual full development permit and works will only commence following such approval.
Either way, the current planning mechanism provides for enough safeguards with respect to Labour’s concerns. For this reason, Mario Demarco was correct to state that it should be MEPA (and not parliament) to decide whether to consider, suspend, accept or dismiss an outline application.


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