Senseless Mepa practice -
Talking point
Lino Spiteri
Mon, Oct 8, 2007

Mepa is a perennial talking point. If the environment and planning authority isn't in the news for one thing, it is for the other. It is at the receiving end of interminable complaints, so much so it makes one wonder how it ever gets things done. Part of the complaints, in fact, is that the authority gets them done rather slowly. That complaint pales into insignificance with what is said over issues like the Ramla l-Hamra affair. The saga is worthy of one of the chapters in the story of Ulysses, who gave that disputed area his name, alongside that of Calypso.

That saga has ended like a tale straight from the writer O. Henry, with a double twist in the last paragraph. Perhaps ended is too strong a word. The would-be developers will be closeted with their legal advisers to try to find legal grounds on which to take Mepa to court. They might wish they had the wily Ulysses as an adviser, but in fact he seems to have put his wits at the disposal of the other side.

Whatever else comes up in the weeks and months ahead, the saga has highlighted a very strange feature in the way the authority works. As architect and politician Robert Musumeci pithily put in this newspaper on Saturday (The Revocation Of The Ramla l-Hamra Permit), to date ownership has normally not been considered as a material planning consideration affecting development applications, other than when an application is intended to sanction already committed works. Meaning that it is the actual owner who must ask Mepa to sanction works undertaken without a permit, but in contrast, anyone can apply for a plan involving somebody else's property.

The little matter of ownership only comes into play if a permit is issued, in which case it would be made conditional on the ownership issue being cleared up.

I am not aware how this practice came about. To my mind it constitutes undiluted nonsense. The condition has allowed a way out of the Ramla l-Hamra turbulent story. That is not the point. The point is that part of Mepa's time may be taken up considering applications regarding land not owned by the applicant, and - certainly hypothetically - regarding which a dispute may arise which renders futile the work put in by Mepa. However this practice came about, it is very clearly odd. One might find himself involved in a situation concerning one's property regarding which one had never given consent, or was previously aware.

I suggest the Ramla l-Hamra outcome should be used as an opportunity to remedy this anomaly. An applicant for a Mepa building permit should, in the first instance, give proof of title. Unless the applicant is the owner, or can at least produce a promise of sale confirmed by the would-be seller, the application should not be considered. This test should be passed before the application is in any way processed, and therefore before contributions have to be paid, though applications should still carry a fee.

Mepa, however much pilloried, is an important institution. It has a heavy workload, which will remain so while the construction industry is of considerable current relevance to the economy. The authority should not be burdened with practices which do not make sense.
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08 Oct 2007 by