Impact of EIA decisions (letters) -
Marco Cremona, Mosta.

The news that the EU Commission decided to "fast track" its legal procedure against the Maltese authorities over the waiver of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Fort Cambridge development (June 28) must have sent shockwaves down Mepa's corridors as well as a cold chill up the developers' spines last week.

This warning was followed by another in the same week on the Ramla developments (July 1). The message is loud and clear. The EU Commission is seriously concerned that all is not well on the small island of Malta, so much so that it has decided to give the Maltese authorities only one month to reply to this warning.

In a move intended to put pressure on the government to defend Mepa's decision to waive the EIA, GAP Developments chairman George Muscat said he "would be pushing ahead with the development" and said that the "country is committed" (to the development).

What the developer is effectively suggesting is that the Maltese government should use the taxpayers' money to try and justify the unjustifiable and defend Mepa's very misguided decision to waive the EIA. Let us not forget that Mepa's arguments for waiving the EIA were very frail indeed. Mepa is reported as saying that the visual and shadowing impact of the proposed 23-floor high-rise building is "not expected to be significant", and that the demolition and construction phases of this massive development in one of the most highly densely populated parts of the world would not generate "significant" impacts.

These are the pathetic arguments that the Maltese government has at its disposal to take the EU Commission to task. The legal fees and ensuing fines may run into hundreds of thousands of euros, if not millions. To use public money to this end is scandalous, if not criminal.

Ironically, Mepa's decision to waive the EIA (thereby "fast tracking" the development) has landed the developer in a spot of trouble. The developer purchased the ex-Holiday Inn property for Lm23.3 million last December; some Lm16.3 million worth of bonds to part-finance the project were issued earlier this year. Two-thirds of the property has already been sold on plan. Nevertheless, the developer "is not really worried" because he "is sure that the authority and the government acted properly and that the matter will be resolved". Alas, the EU Commission seems to think otherwise and it will ultimately be the EU Court that will have the last word. Either way, it is the taxpayer who will lose out because of Mepa's incompetence - the Maltese government now faces the prospect of EU fines and/or damages to be paid to the developer should the development permit be revoked.

To make matters worse, Mepa has recently amended the 2001 EIA regulations because there was the "perception that some (project) thresholds were too strict". Consequently, a number of projects that were previously considered by Mepa to require an EIA can now proceed without the need for an EIA. What this means is that Mepa is effectively putting up-and-coming projects in the front line for scrutiny by the EU Commission and subject to similar treatment as the Fort Cambridge and the Ramla projects!

I appeal to the Prime Minister to stop this nonsense and to instruct Mepa to immediately withdraw the permits for the Fort Cambridge and the Ramla developments until the issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the EU Commission. Defending the indefensible is certainly not in the national interest, especially when the EIA process is recognised by Mepa as being the "single most effective tool towards protecting the environment (including human beings)".

I also call for the revoking of the amended EIA regulations that were enacted recently and that the persons involved in getting the country in this mess be held accountable for their actions.
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08 Jul 2007 by