The Ramblers’ Association of Malta held a press conference today to highlight the present problem with the public’s right to access the countryside. Meeting in front of a recently installed gate which blocks access from Baħrija to Il-Blata tal-Melħ, the association lamented that this case had become emblematic of the recent trend of blocking access to passageways which have been traditionally open. In fact the association claims that this passageway is marked on the 1968 survey sheets as a footpath, which means that access had previously existed along this footpath.
The association also highlighted the need for reforming the enforcement procedures of the planning authority. In this case, the gate was installed without planning permission and then the application for sanctioning was suspended for 6 months before the case was brought to a hearing. In the meantime, no enforcement notice was issued and no fines were given for the illegality, which has continued to obstruct public access in the meantime. The association claimed that this setup punishes law abiding citizens.
Besides ensuring public access through traditional footpaths, the association, speaking for Malta’s major eNGOs, made two further proposals for rural areas. The first proposal was the immediate publication of the new Rural Policy, which was announced in 2020 to protect the countryside from abusive development but was subsequently shelved with the excuse that this depended on the SPED strategic plan being finalised first.
The second proposal was the scheduling of 24 sites which were suggested for public domain protection by the eNGOs back in 2017. While substantial effort had been expended to support this exercise, the proposals had also been left languishing, leading to these sites losing out on the protection they would have been afforded by the law.
The association insisted that it was time to move from words to action when it came to environmental protection and the right of access to the countryside.