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Good Planning Makes Societies More Resilient

18 January 2016

Dyan Currie and Clive Harridge, President and Secretary-General, respectively, of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), were recently in Malta to attend the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The Malta Chamber of Planners (MACP) met with both Dyan and Clive and had the opportunity to exchange views on current planning issues, particularly with reference to Malta.

The CAP represents over 40,000 planners worldwide and plays a leading role in developing the planning profession throughout the countries of the Commonwealth.  The MACP forms part of the European section of CAP which also includes the Royal Town Planning Institute (UK) and the Cyprus Association of Town Planners.

The main theme of this year’s CPF was ‘What makes societies resilient?’. This is a crucial current theme in view of issues relating particularly to climate change, increased urbanisation and poverty, issues very relevant to Malta. As Dyan clearly pointed out in her address at the CPF, proper planning is an important tool to ensure that strong societies are developed, societies which are resilient and can meet the challenges that the future may bring in a sustainable manner.

According to Dyan ‘Good planning is the best way to manage urban growth, to secure the necessary infrastructure investment, determine appropriate settlement patterns for our cities and towns and to generate economic development that contributes positively to the well being of communities and the natural environments.’  The Planning Institute of Australia, had run a programme called ‘Planning Matters’. This programme, aimed at public and private sector organisations as well as the general public, sought to promote a better understanding towards the importance of planning as a discipline and as a crucial tool for sustainable development as well as create a greater understanding towards and support for the work of planners.

This view is also strongly expressed by the Royal Town Planning Institute’s publication ‘Delivering Better Development: The role of the urban and rural planner’. Planning seeks to positively manage development through the creation of good policies and practical solutions for managing development, supporting economic growth and access to jobs whilst protecting the environment and building sustainably with the aim to improve places for the local communities.

This is certainly not an easy task, particularly for Malta, and the more the country weakens its planning structures and mechanisms, the greater will be the problems faced in the future. Proper planning principles, in Malta, are often challenged by strong, well-resourced lobby groups representing commercial interests, which are often favourably considered by short sighted politicians at the expense of sustainable development. Despite the rhetoric, many a time, these developments have turned out to be speculative in nature, profitable only to their promoters and counter to the enhancement of the quality of both the environment and the life of the local community. Misjudged or flawed planning decisions, which may or may have not been taken intentionally and equally detrimental reluctance in the application of what may have seemed unpopular, have in the past resulted in a number of serious problems, particularly with regard to traffic congestion and safety, urban sprawl, pollution and overdevelopment. A lax application of planning policy, and a laissez faire attitude, have in general led to ‘market failure’. In land use planning it is fundamental to take good decisions in a timely manner and which are neither too rash and ill-thought nor unnecessarily protracted and damaging to the competitiveness of enterprise.

Changes in the legislation to entrust greater power to the few rather than focusing on subsidiarity, community engagement and sustainability, will not only result in higher costs to the society to sustain infrastructure and public services, amongst others, but will also widen the divide between those who have and those who have not, increasing the possibility in future of greater dependency on the state and increased poverty, thus undermining society’s resilience.

The Malta Declaration on Governance for Resilience which emerged from the CPF and presented to the Commonwealth Heads of Government states the following: ‘Achieving resilient urbanisation and planning for sustainable human settlements requires inclusive people’s participation. An ultimate goal in planning for resilient urbanisation is to work with governments and communities to ensure informed decisions are made in a democratic process. Planning for resilience is not a neutral technocratic process, but an inclusive one, bringing all stakeholders to the table.’  A weakening of proper people’s participation in the planning process decreases society’s resilience and Government is responsible to ensure that structures for public participation are transparent and strengthened. After all the setting up of the Small States Centre for Excellence, which was announced during last month’s CHOGM, aims to support efforts towards sustainable development planning, disaster risk planning and sustainable development. It is hoped that this newly formed centre will live up to its aims in a genuine effort to achieve sustainable development planning, particularly in Malta, thus ensuring a more resilient society in future. The Chamber’s website is and email​

Anthony Ellul, General Secretary, Malta Chamber of Planners

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