Land use - Why care? (Malta)
Land is one of Malta’s most important environmental media, providing the context for its life support systems, and thus for biodiversity and human life itself. Social and cultural activities use land as a backdrop, and land is a basic resource for economic activity. Due to Malta’s size, population density and interesting island biodiversity, decisions relating to land-use change are often highly contested. Subsequently, the thrust is to direct development within the development zone while protecting sites and areas designated for their ecological, scientific, archæological and other value.
Land use is affected by agriculture, the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, resource management, housing, and transport, and by policies formulated to direct these. However, the principal instrument through which conflicts between competing interests for land are resolved is the land-use planning system. The legal framework for planning in Malta is set out in the 1992 Development Planning Act, through which the Planning Authority was first established, as well as a detailed and hierarchical system of Development Plans and Planning Policies on which decisions regarding land-use change are based. Primary among these is the 1990 Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands, which sets out 320 policies offering strategic land-use guidance at the national level, and which is currently under review. Seven local plans provide local interpretations of the general policies of the Structure Plan. Five of these were approved in 2006, while the other two – the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan and the Grand Harbour Local Plan were approved in 1995 and 2002 respectively. Through these, potential conflicts emerging from decisions relating to land use can be addressed earlier in the development process, when there is more scope for discussion. The Structure and Local Plans are supported by a set of supplementary planning guidance notes (Planning Policies).
The agriculture sector, now operating within the single market and an EU policy context, is guided by the Rural Development Plan for 2007-2013. In line with EU policy, this seeks to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, the rural environment and quality of life, as well as help diversify the rural economy. This is addressed through the use of agri-environmental measures under which farmers receive financial benefits for undertaking conservation-friendly measures such as organic farming and the management of the rural infrastructure, for example the maintenance of dry stone walls.
Nature conservation policy is guided by the EU Habitats and Birds Directives and the related national legislation that seeks to protect areas of national and international conservation importance. Of particular interest are Natura 2000 sites that need to be formally managed within six years of designation, to ensure that the chief threats to habitats and species in that area are reduced or eliminated. The European Landscape Convention, although not yet ratified by Malta, has been taken on board through the planning system.
Water issues in Malta are regulated through the Water Framework Directive and its related national legislation under the Malta Resources Authority Act and the Environment Protection Act. The principal considerations are the control and coordination of activities on land that might have a detrimental effect on water quality by means of a water catchment management plan.
National legislation, the Fertile Soil (Preservation) Act, covers the preservation of this strategic resource. There is no current legislation on non-agricultural soils or on the remediation of contaminated industrial soils.
National housing policy focuses on access to affordable housing and is implemented by the Malta Housing Authority. The land-use dimension is administered through the planning system, which provides the strategic context in terms of supply and location of land. Transport policy is implemented by the Malta Transport Authority, and a strategic direction may be found in the TEN-T report for Malta and the document on Public Transport.
The countryside, which made up 70 % of Malta’s land area in 2006 (CLC2006), contributes fundamentally to the islands’ life support systems by providing ecosystem services related to clean air, soil, and ground and surface waters. It also plays a fundamental role in contributing the physical backdrop to the national heritage, as well as providing the context for recreational, æsthetic, sporting and exercise-related activities. It also provides a location for economic activities related to agriculture, tourism, minerals extraction and recreation.
 Cap. 356.
 MDI (Ministry for Development of Infrastructure). 1990a. Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands. Draft Final Written Statement and Key Diagram, December 1990. (http://www.mepa.org.mt/lpg-structureplan, accessed on 25th January 2010).