Fabian Demicoli

GRTU members present their individual issues to MEPA Chairman, CEO and high ranking MEPA officials


A very important meeting was held this week where GRTU
and MEPA held a reaching out exercise for GRTU members to have direct access to
MEPA and hear their complaints, problems and suggestions related to this
Authority. President Paul Abela stated that MEPA is very important
for business as many enterprises at one point or another or sometimes on
multiple occasions have to deal with MEPA and many times they depend on MEPA to
operate or proceed with their plans.

Mr Abela stated that this is a very
important exercise that has started in 2013 and which we will continue to
follow up on and hold regular meetings with MEPA.

MEPA CEO Ian Stafrace stated that since the Reform MEPA
has undergone drastic changes and has worked hard to set and meet deadlines,
become more responsive and sensitive to the needs of businesses and most of all
to be more accessible and communicate better. This is why he welcomed this
opportunity to meet GRTU members directly as many times important improvements
can be made through better knowledge of the sectors they deal with and learning
from communication. With increased knowledge MEPA aims to become more
proactive.

The issue that was first presented from GRTU Members concerned
petrol stations. Many petrol stations have had pending applications with MEPA
for several years now in order to relocate to a new kerb-side pump. It was
requested that MEPA would give priority to the issue in order to have it
settled. MEPA CEO replied by saying that they are aware of the issue and this
is the case that even the quarries are encountering. Mr Stafrace continued
saying that at first such applications were few and no specific policy was
needed but later it developed into a trend and they were caught up in a policy
vacuum and they did not want to proceed before they had the adequate policy
framework. In addition to this now there are so many applications that it has
now become an administrative problem. The CEO also acknowledged that however
the issue has dragged for very long and will be addressed, such a delay is not
only not acceptable for the commercial sector but is also not acceptable for
MEPA. Paul Abela suggested that the distinctions between the petrol stations
should be eliminated and we should gather them all and treat them as one group.

GRTU Council Member representing the agriculture sector
Stephen Galea said that the agriculture sector has a lot of problems when it
comes to MEPA. He questioned the fact that MEPA worked with the timeframes
it stated as he himself had a bad experience. He also said that he knew of
other cases where a farmer for example had to wait one year before he could go
ahead to be able to cover his water reservoir, something that is positive and
not very complicated. They are already at a disadvantage because they are in
ODZ areas and then full time farmers are only given up to 40sqm for a store. He
said that this is an impossible situation for a full time farmer but at the
same time he understood that there are environmental and visual implications
and therefore he proposed that they would be given the option to expand
underground. Stephen continued by questioning why MEPA's permit application fees
were so high, was this to discourage applications? He said that especially for
farmers these were just too prohibitive and he doubted how many applications
were received by MEPA for example to apply for a green house.

He commented that he already heard that the new Board
Chair was a staunch environmentalist and he stated that the approach must be a
balanced one and consider also the point of view of the farmer. He said that he
welcomed the works expressed by the CEO very much but MEPA needs to communicate
this approach better and show it through actions. The MEPA Chairman stated that
he is very familiar with the genuine problems faced by MEPA as in the past he
was closely involved in the farmers` cooperative and he has close contacts till
today. The issue concerning size was realistic and MEPA has already carried out
work in this regard. Regarding the delays he said that a distinction must be
made before the reform and after the reform. He believes that since the reform
in January 2011 MEPA has kept 100% to its promises but there are older
applications that are still in the system. On the application rates he said
that it could be that following this meeting the application rates for certain
sectors would be revised but that would have to be discussed with the Ministry.
The Chairman also called for the backing of the Agriculture department. He said
that it would be ideal if the Agriculture department had a dedicated section
that would analyse agriculture related applications and even guide MEPA as to
the importance of having them approved with their backing, if need be even by
over ruling certain policies.

Mr Abela stated that many sectors have to deal with
different Government departments and it takes very long to get the papers and
approvals from all these departments. He therefore suggested that all
stakeholders involved should come together and form a one stop shop.

There were also a number of other issues that arose
amongst which a member explained his case that because of an accident on the
area sittings took very long and came to cost him a lot of money and in the
meantime he lost his permits. Due to the fact that the permits were lost, even
though he owns an area today he has had to rent another area. MEPA CEO
sympathized very much with this individual and stated that this case is very
worrying and a solution needs to be found and that MEPA will meet him to
discuss his situation.

Other issues were raised. On areas of containment MEPA
said that there were many open areas that required a structural plan revision.

The issue of eco-contribution and waste packaging was
also mentioned on which MEPA said that it worked closely with GRTU in order to
ensure a fair playing field is established. MEPA CEO said that those that evade
will always be present but he said that Government has organized a committee
for all enforcement Government Authorities to come together to pool resources
and enhance their enforcement efforts.

Mario Debono, GRTU Council Member who represents GRTU on
MEPA Users' Committee, spoke about the need for MEPA not to be too restrictive.
He asked how, for example, MEPA would itself make proposals for new marinas,
which are needed to enhance tourism. He mentioned the marina in Kalkara that
was protected by a floating breakwater instead of fixed, resulting in much less
protection for boats inside the marina. He also mentioned that there should
have also been the construction of a breakwater at Tigne Point.

Mr Debono also delved into the Floor Area Ratio policy.
He asked how MEPA had this policy but was not actuating it. This was not right.
If anything, MEPA should be clear about this policy, or else replace it with a
new Design Guidance Policy, where good design and open spaces not developed are
rewarded with extra floors.

MEPA CEO mentioned that he would like communication to
improve to have feedback from the sector especially when MEPA issues
consultation documents. He said that with consultation policies can only
improve but feedback received was very few. Dr Stafrace said that currently for
instance there is an important consultation related to when an establishment
wants to apply for change of use. Paul Abela informed MEPA that GRTU has a very
effective publication, the GRTU newSTRING, which MEPA can also use as a
communication tool.

Another GRTU Council Member Saviour Vella who represents
cargo hauliers put forward a complaint on Cites saying that cargo hauliers and
importers were experiencing difficulties because of the limited opening hours
of the Cites office that falls under MEPA. Currently the Cites office opens
only for three days a week for a few hours each time. This was holding up goods
and requested that Cites opens more frequently and for longer hours. GRTU also
mentioned the importance of confidentiality when reports are sent to MEPA and
the MEPA Chairmen assured that MEPA already has a strict confidentiality
policy.

The
meeting was concluded and those present were offered the opportunity to meet
MEPA privately on their individual cases. Members having problems and wishing
to discuss issues with MEPA should contact GRTU.

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