Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

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In-nifs li nieħdu

Meta, riċentment, kienu intervistati mill-medja lokali Uffiċjali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), ikkonfermaw dak li ilna nafu għal żmien konsiderevoli: it-tniġġiż tal-arja f’Malta hu prinċipalament ikkawżat mill-mezzi tat-trasport. Triq Sant’Anna fil-Furjana hi l-iktar triq bl-arja mniġġsa f’Malta filwaqt li mhux ‘il-bogħod li l-kwalitá tal-arja tal-Imsida teċċedi dak permissibli mir-regolamenti tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar il-kwalitá tal-arja.

Hu ovvju li l-ħtija ewlenija għal dan hi ġejja min-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Gvern wara l-ieħor dejjem qagħda lura milli jindirizza l-problema bis-serjetá. Dejjem iduru mal-lewża: jindirizzaw il-konsegwenzi mingħajr il-kuraġġ li jiffukaw fuq il-kawża.
Is-soluzzjoni qegħda billi jonqos in-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna kif ukoll li simultanjament titjieb il-kwalitá tal-karozzi li jibqgħu.

Waqt il-kampanja elettorali tal-2017 f’Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet li fi żmien 20 sena l-karozzi kollha fit-toroq tagħna jkunu jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Din il-proposta tfisser li fuq perjodu ta’ mhux iktar minn għoxrin sena ma jkollniex iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-disil fit-toroq tagħna. B’hekk, bla dubju, it-tniġġiż tal-arja, jonqos drastikament.

Din il-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kienet għoġbot lil Joseph Muscat li f’ Settembru 2017, f’waħda mill-prietki tiegħu ta’ nhar ta’ Ħadd kien tkellem favur tagħha. Imma ma smajna xejn iktar dwarha minn dakinnhar!

Billi l-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi tagħna fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom idumu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta hu ħafna possibli li n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna jonqos. Dan faċilment jinftiehem għax għal dawn id-distanzi qosra hawn diversi mezzi alternattivi li jassiguraw mobilitá effiċjenti.

Jonqos biss ħaġa waħda: ma hawnx rieda politika biex jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa.

Il-Furjana, minn barra li għandha t-triq bl-iktar arja mniġġsa f’Malta trid tiffaċċja ukoll l-emissjonijiet tal-vapuri tal-passiġġieri (cruise liners), li, skond id-direzzjoni tar-riħ, iktar iva milli le, jonfħu d-dħaħen tagħhom direttament għal ġoż-żona residenzjali tal-Furjana. Din hi problema li f’miżura inqas hi ffaċċjata ukoll minn Birżebbuġa bħala riżultat tal-moviment tal-vapuri fil-Port Ħieles.

Il-vapuri suppost li jaqilbu l-magni tagħhom fuq żjut u fjuwil li jniġġes inqas hekk kif jidħlu fil-port. Din hi materja li hi regolata minn diversi direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Id-diffikultá, bħal dejjem, hi, li l-infurzar tal-liġijiet ftit li xejn ikun osservat.

Teoretikament teżisti soluzzjoni oħra biex ikun ikkontrollat u jonqos sostanzjalment it-tniġġiż mill-vapuri ġaladarba dawn jkunu siguri fil-port. Jista’ jkun possibli li jagħmlu użu minn sors elettriku li joriġina mill-art flok mill-ġeneraturi tal-elettriku fuq il-vapuri.

Lokalment diġa tħejjew żewġ studji preliminari dwar dan: wieħed jiffoka fuq il-Port il-Kbir u l-ieħor fuq it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles f’Birżebbuġa. Dawn l-istudji saru kif ġie inkoraġġit li jsir mir-rakkomandazzjoni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea dwar il-promozzjoni tal-użu ta’ elettriku mill-art mill-vapuri fil-portijiet tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Rakkomandazzjoni li saret fl-2006.

Dawn l-istudji jaslu għal konklużjonijiet simili fis-sens li ma jistax iseħħ progress bħala riżultat ta’ azzjoni unilaterali f’portijiet individwali. L-azzjoni u d-deċiżjonijiet jeħtieġ li jittieħdu fuq livell tal-industrija tal-vapuri u trid tkun misjuqa internazzjonalment jew mill-Unjoni Ewropea.

Huwa magħruf li huma biss il-vapuri li jbaħħru lejn l-istat Amerikan ta’ Kalifornja li għandhom il-kapaċita teknika li jutilizzaw l-elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art. Dan minħabba li l-Kalifornja għandha liġijiet li tobbliga li dan isir.

Ir-rakkomandazzjoni tal-2006 tal-Unjoni Ewropea ħejjiet it-triq biex saru numru ta’ studji dwar diversi portijiet tal-Unjoni dwar kemm jagħmel sens ekonomiku li fejn hemm portijiet viċin ħafna ta’ żoni residenzjali jitfu l-magni tagħhom u jagħmlu użu tal-elettriku mill-art. Nistgħu biss nittamaw li dawn l-istudji jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni meta titfassal t-triq il-quddiem.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Lulju 2018

The air we breathe

Officers of the Environment and Resources Authority, interviewed by the local media, emphasised what we have known for ages: the main contributor to air pollution in Malta is transport. St Anne Street in Floriana is the most polluted street in Malta, while Msida will soon exceed the maximum permissible limits of EU regulations on air quality.

It is pretty obvious that the main culprit is the number of cars on our roads. Successive governments, however, have been reluctant to bell the cat. Instead they go around in circles, tackling the effects and continuously avoiding the causes.

The solution lies in reducing the number of cars on our roads and simultaneously improving the quality of the remaining numbers.

During the 2017 Electoral Campaign in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party proposed the electrification of cars on Maltese roads within a maximum of 20 years. This proposal means that all petrol and diesel run cars would be taken off our roads within a maximum of 20 years. Inevitably, air pollution would decrease drastically.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s proposal was subsequently taken up by Joseph Muscat in September 2017 in one of his Sunday sermons. However, we have not heard anything more on the matter since.

Reducing the number of cars on our roads is achievable due to the fact that most of the trips made by cars are of less than 15 minutes duration. This is understandable, as most of the distances we travel are short.

Only one thing is missing: the political will to act.

Floriana, in addition to having the most polluted street on the island, must also cope with emissions from cruise liners, which, depending on the direction of the prevailing wind, more often than not blow their fumes directly across the Floriana residential area. To a lesser extent, this is an experience also shared by Birżebbuġa as a result of the ship movements at the Malta Freeport Terminal.

Ships should switch over to less polluting fuels when in port, a matter which is regulated by a number of European Union Directives. The difficulty with this is that enforcement is practically non-existent.

Theoretically, there is also another solution to control and substantially reduce pollution from ships, once these are berthed. It would be possible to switch over the electricity supply required by a ship from one dependent on the ship generators to a source of electrical power which is land-based. Two preliminary studies have been carried out locally, one focused on the Grand Harbour and the other focused on the Freeport Terminal at Birżebbuġa. These studies were carried out in terms of the EU Commission Recommendation on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in Community ports, a recommendation that was adopted in 2006.

The above-mentioned studies have reached similar conclusions in that it is considered that progress cannot be achieved by unilateral action at individual ports. Action must be industry-wide and must be driven internationally or by the EU.

It is known that only sea vessels which call at ports in the American state of California are equipped to take onshore power supply, because California has legislated on the matter.

The EU recommendation of 2006 has paved the way for a number of studies across the EU on the economic feasibility of onshore power supply to ships berthed close to residential areas. We can only hope that these studies are taken into consideration when plotting the way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 July 2018

Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that the lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

L-Ippjanar rasu l-isfel

Nhar l-Erbgħa, l-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar beda d-diskussjoni dwar jekk għandux ikun hemm tibdil fil-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol (u d-disil) (Fuel Service Stations Policy) tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Bla dubju kien xprunat mid-deċiżjonijiet riċenti tal-istess awtorità dwar pompi tal-petrol f’f’Burmarrad, Marsaskala u l-Magħtab. Hemm applikazzjonijiet pendenti għal pompi ġodda f’Ħ’Attard, l-Imqabba u l-Iklin fil-waqt li hemm madwar 60 pompa oħra qed jistennew il-permessi mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex itejbu l-faċilitajiet inkluż protezzjoni ambjentali u dan minn total eżistenti ta’ 85 pompa.

Il-kummenti validi kienu bosta. Ikkonċentraw l-iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li l-pompi tal-petrol fiż-żona urbana jingħalqu u li dawn jiċċaqalqu xi mkien ieħor. Ftit iżda kien hemm ħeġġa biex tkun diskussa l-qalba tal-materja: xi bżonn għandna tal-pompi tal-petrol?

Madwar ħames xhur ilu, il-Prim Ministru, wara li għal darba oħra ħares ħarsa sewwa lejn il-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika tal-2017, ħabbar, li l-Gvern immexxi minnu kien ser jagħti bidu għal process ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan biex jistabilixxi data minn meta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil ma jkunux jistgħu jinbiegħu iktar biex minflok ikollna karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Ma smajna xejn iktar dwar dan ħlief artiklu miktub mill-Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg entużjażmat li fis-snin li ġejjin ser nimxu fuq il-passi ta’ pajjiżi Ewropej oħra.

Il-Prim Ministru, bir-raġun kollu emfasizza li din il-bidla fil-politika tal-Gvern kienet meħtieġa minħabba li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi kienu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż tal-arja fil-pajjiż. Għalfejn dan id-dewmien kollu biex ikunu stabiliti u mħabbra d-dettalji ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tajba? Uħud mill-pajjiżi Ewropej ilhom żmien li għamlu dan. In-Norveġja u l-Olanda stabilew is-sena 2025, il-Ġermanja qed tikkonsidra s-sena 2030, fil-waqt li Franza u r-Renju Unit huma mħajra għas-sena 2040 biex iwaqqfu l-bejgħ ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil.

Id-diskussjoni dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pompi tal-petrol/disil għandha issir f’kuntest wiesgħa tal-politika tat-trasport inkluż l-elettrifikazzjoni tal-mezzi privati tat-trasport.

Il-punt ewlieni tad-diskussjoni huwa li bħala riżultat tal-elettrifikazzjoni n-numru ta’ pompi tal-petrol/disel meħtieġa mhux ser jiżdied imma ser jonqos fuq medda ta’ snin u dan sakemm jasal għal xejn jew kważi xejn. Allura għalfejn nibnu u ninkoraġixxu l-bini ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol/disil? Ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-investiment nindirizzawh lejn is-soluzzjoni tal-problemi, mhux lejn it-tkattir tagħhom!

Il-pompi tal-petrol eżistenti fiż-żoni urbani qed jintużaw bħala skuża biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw it-tħarbit ta’ 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art. Fil-fatt dan hu l-iskop ewlieni tal-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil approvata fl-2015.

Ma jkunx aħjar li flok ma jingħalqu l-pompi tal-petrol fl-abitat ikunu konvertiti f’lok fejn tiċċarġja l-batteriji tal-karozzi? Dawn il-pompi qegħdin fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom f’żoni ċentrali u huma ġeneralment ta’ qies żgħir. Kull pompa tal-petrol urbana li tkun salvata u konvertita biex fiha niċċarġjaw il-batteriji tfisser ukoll li nkunu salvajna 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art minn spekulazzjoni. Fl-istess ħin inkunu qed nippovdu servizz li ser ikun essenzjali eżatt fejn hu meħtieġ.

Dan ikun użu tajjeb għall-investiment, aħjar milli jintuża f’bini ta’ pompi ġodda barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp. Jekk dan isir inkunu qed nittrasformaw problema eżistenti f’diversi lokalitajiet f’soluzzjoni addattata għall-bini tal-infrastruttura meħtieġa għall-eletrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat f’Malta.

Dan ovvjament ifisser li nkunu qed naqilbu ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil. Flok ma nużaw il-pompi urbani bħala skuża biex tkun ġustifikata l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art inkunu qed nagħtu spinta tajba lill-ħarsien ambjentali.

Hu eżattament dan li għandna bżonn f’dan il-mument: naqilbu l-ippjanar rasu l-isfel.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Frar 2018

 

Turning the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Environment and Land Use Planning Committee discussed the possible revision of the Fuel Service Stations Policy. The three development permits issued in the past weeks by the Planning Authority for fuel service stations at Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Magħtab without doubt was the spark that motivated the discussion. Among the pending applications, Attard, Mqabba and Iklin are queuing for new service stations, while over 60 more, from a current total of 85 stations are awaiting the Planning Authority go-ahead for upgrading.

A number of valid observations were made. Most of the discussion dealt with the need to relocate service stations currently within urban areas but there was, however, a reluctance to address head-on the real issue: do we need fuel service stations?

Almost five months ago, the Prime Minister – taking a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto – announced that his government will be launching a public consultation to establish a cut-off date for the sale of diesel and petrol cars in Malta and the use of only electricity-driven vehicles instead. We have not heard much more about this proposal, apart for an article by Transport Minister Ian Borg who wrote about following in the footsteps of other European countries in “phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades”.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that this change in policy is required in view of the fact that vehicle emissions are the largest source of pollution in Malta, but why wait so long to put flesh on the bare bones of the declared policy? Other European countries have already determined their cut-off date. Norway and the Netherlands are considering the year 2025, Germany is considering 2030, while France and the United Kingdom are opting for the year 2040 by which to halt the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Revisiting the Fuel Service Stations Policy should not be discussed in a vacuum. It has to be placed in the context of related transport policies and in particular the fact (hopefully) that Malta should now be going electric.

The main issue clearly is that, as a result of going electric, the number of fuel service stations required will at some point in the future – hopefully the not so very distant future – will be next to nil. So why build more of them? Why encourage investment in something that is not needed? It would be much better to channel investment into resolving problems instead of adding to them.

The relocation of urban area fuel service stations – the main thrust of the Fuel Service Stations Policy approved in 2015 – is being used to justify the uptake of 3,000 square metres of land. But instead of relocating the existing service stations in urban areas, would it not be much better if these were converted into charging stations? These service stations are centrally located and mostly of a relatively small size. Every conversion one into a charging station would potentially save 3000 square metres of land in the middle of nowhere and simultaneously provide the service of electrically charging vehicles right where that service is required: in our urban areas.

It is towards the conversion of these fuel stations that investment should be channelled. They can be transformed from being a problem in our residential communities to being an integral and focal part of the strategy to develop a suitable, reliable and – above all – sustainable infrastructure so necessary for the electrification of private transport.

This would obviously turn the Fuel Service Stations policy upside down. Instead of using urban service stations as an excuse to trigger more land speculation, it is about time to inject some environmental considerations right where they are most needed.

This is what we need right now: the turning of the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 February 2018

Beyond roundabouts and flyovers

 

The need for adequate traffic management is apparently, at last, very high on the list of matters preoccupying the Maltese public. The solutions to the problems we face, however, depends on the behaviour of each and every one of us.

Traffic congestion is a constant irritation, as our roads are clogged for longer periods of time and in addition to wasting an ever-increasing amount of time in traffic, we are simultaneously constantly reducing the quality of the air we breathe.

Tackling traffic management adequately would hence address two fundamental issues: air quality and our clogged roads.

I do not dispute that improving the road network eases the flow of traffic. However, it has to be stressed that this is only a short-term measure. Adjusting the roundabout at Manwel Dimech Street in Qormi or the traffic lanes close to the airport or constructing flyovers at Kappara and Marsa will address and rationalise traffic movement now.

However, this further development of the road infrastructure is simply an encouragement for more cars to use our roads. It is only a matter of time when it will be the turn of the new developments to burst at the seams.

The present state of affairs is the direct result of the long-term neglect of transport policy. Public transport – as well as alternative means of transport – has been given the cold shoulder for far too long.

We require a transport policy that actively encourages the reduction of the number of vehicles on the road. Having around 800 cars on the road for every one thousand people in a small country is ridiculous. The small distances between localities in Malta and Gozo should make it much easier to encourage a reduction in dependence on the privately-owned car. Initiatives can be taken on a local level as well as between neighbouring localities. In such instances, it can be much easier to encourage the use of bicycles or the use of public transport or even to walk short distances: our health will surely benefit.

Isn’t it about time that we claim back ownership of our streets? We need more pedestrianised streets inaccessible to cars at any time of the day in every locality in Malta and Gozo. More streets need to be traffic-free, safe for children and parents to walk to school and back. We also need wider pavements for the use of pedestrians (not for tables and chairs to service catering establishments).

In the 2016 Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that, during 2017, government entities should be finalising sustainable transport plans. In the coming weeks these should be made public and, as a result, we expect that all government entities will commence addressing the mobility requirements of their employees and their customers. If carried out properly, this exercise could also impact on the private sector thereby (hopefully) substantially reducing a substantial number cars from our roads at peak times. In turn, this could have a considerable impact on public transport because with fewer cars on the roads, it should be more efficient.

Concurrently, government should also address the proposal to electrify the whole private transport sector through banning petrol and diesel cars from our roads, after a reasonable transition, and switching over to cars running on electricity. In Malta, this proposal was launched as part of Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto. Since then, it has also been taken up by the French and UK governments. Removing petrol and diesel cars from our roads would substantially improve the quality of the air we breathe in all our localities and consequently in the long term will contribute to a considerable reduction of respiratory ailments.

This is the only way forward by which traffic is brought under serious control simultaneously ensuring sustainable mobility and improving the quality of our air.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 September 2017

ODZ lessons : from  Żonqor to Għargħur

 

A planning application (PA3592/16)  to construct a home for the elderly in the area between Naxxar and Għargħur was due to be discussed by the Planning Authority Board on Thursday. Less than five hours before it was due to begin, however, the public hearing was postponed. There may be valid reasons for the postponement but, so far, such reasons – if they exist – are still unknown.

For the past few months, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, has been supporting the residents who are opposed to the development of this privately-owned  home in their neighbourhood since the planning application was first published.

There are various reasons which justify opposition to this proposed development. When faced with such a proposal, the first reactions understandably relate to the direct impact that it will have on the residential community – during both the construction phase and  the operational phase of the proposed facility. During the construction phase, this impact would include excavation noise and vibration, the nuisance caused by airborne dust during construction and the general inconvenience resulting from a large construction site very close to a residential community.

Once the home is in use, the traffic generated at all times of the day – as well as the occupying of residents’ parking spaces by visitors – will be one of the most pressing concerns to justify opposition to the proposal.

These are sensible reasons which justify opposition to the proposed development, even though some mitigation of these impacts is generally possible.

In my opinion, however, before even considering the proposal, it has to be emphasised that the construction of a home for the elderly outside the development zone (ODZ) between Naxxar and Għargħur is a good reason for objection in principle.

On the grounds of social policy, to continue encouraging the institutional care of the aged by way of residential homes does not hold water. It makes much more sense to help the older members of our society to remain in their homes as an integral part of the community, close to their roots, as long as this is possible. This should be the preferred option, rather than forcing them to abandon their roots and move away to the outskirts of our towns and villages.

The Social Policy Ministry harps on about the integration of the elderly in the community while the authority responsible for land use planning is facilitating their segregation. Obviously, somewhere there is a lack of understanding and coordination.

Locating homes for the elderly on the edges of our towns and villages is, in the long term, unsustainable. In addition to fostering segregation, instead of encouraging inclusion, it creates an environmental deficit by encouraging the displacement of a number of the residents of our town and village centres to what is now considered as ODZ land. As a result, this leads to an increase in the number of vacant residential properties while simultaneously adding to the built footprint of the Maltese islands – as if we do not have more than enough developed land!

The 2011 Census identified Għargħur as having a 28.5 per cent residential property vacancy rate. The rate for Naxxar was 24.5. These official statistics, which include both vacant properties and partially vacant properties, will undoubtedly get much worse.

This leads to another argument against the proposal to provide a home for the elderly in this particular area.  How can we justify taking up ODZ land for further development when even the site selection exercise, carried out as part of the application process, identified alternative sites within the development zone?

It seems that not enough lessons have been learnt as a result of the Żonqor debacle.  Is it not about time that the Planning Authority puts its house in order?

Policy coordination between the Ministries concerned with social policy, sustainable development, the environment and land use planning is obviously the missing link and should be addressed immediately.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 June 2017

Lil hinn mill-ġebla u l-kaċċa

 

Illum l-ambjent sar parti essenzjali mil-lingwaġġ politiku li jużaw il-partiti politiċi ta’ kuljum. Imma jekk dan hux kaz ta’ konvinzjoni jew konvenjenza, hu storja oħra.

L-ippjanar bl-addoċċ tal-użu tal-art tul is-snin flimkien mal-kaċċa irresponsabbli u insostenibbli kienu fuq quddiem fl-agenda ambjentali għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin. Ġa ktibt b’mod estensiv dwar dan. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent iżda, jfisser ħafna iktar minn hekk, avolja fiċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari ta’ pajjiżna kemm l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kif ukoll il-kaċċa ser jibqgħu fuq nett fl-aġenda ambjentali.

Żewġ oqsma li bla dubju ser ikunu fuq quddiem nett fl-aġenda ambjentali tal-pajjiż fix-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma l-kwalitá tal-arja u l-iskart li niġġeneraw.   Materji li ilna nitkellmu dwarhom is-snin bħala oqsma kruċjali li għandhom impatt fuq il-kwalitá tal-ħajja.

Il-kwalitá tal-arja f’pajjiżna hi effettwata prinċipalment mill-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi. Teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata permezz  ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tinkoraġixxi forom alternattivi ta’ aċċess sostenibbli bejn l-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna.

Il-metro li qed tiġi proposta ta’ min jikkunsidraha minkejja li s’issa għad ma hemmx dettalji biżżejjed dwar il-proposta nnifisha. Din il-proposta tal-metro, għandu jkun sottolinejat, tista’ tagħmel sens biss jekk tkun marbuta ma azzjoni simultanja li l-ewwel tnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq b’mod sostanzjali u li sussegwentement tassigura li fit-toroq tagħna jkun hemm biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku.

Ma jagħmilx sens li tipproponi l-introduzzjoni ta’ metro u fl-istess ħin tibqa’ għaddej bi programm ta’ bini ta’ flyovers jew twessigħ ta’ toroq għax programm ta’ din ix-xorta filwaqt li jnaqqas il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku b’mod temporanju jżid il-kapaċitá tal-istess toroq li jieħdu iktar traffiku u dan minn innifsu jwassal għal iktar konġestjoni tat-traffiku.

L-użu ikbar tar-rota tradizzjonali kif ukoll tal-pedelecs ukoll jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għal iktar mobilitá u anke għal kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar. Imma dan jeħtieġ investiment sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura. Dan jinkludi mhux biss toroq aħjar għal dawk li jużaw ir-rota imma ukoll faċilitajiet ta’ showers fil-post tax-xogħol flimkien ma postijiet addattati fejn titqiegħed ir-rota fiż-żoni riżervati għall-parkeġġ.

Il-mezzi differenti ta’ trasport pubbliku għandhom ikunu imħeġġa biex jagħmlu użu minn sorsi nodfa ta’ enerġija. Dan jista’ jsir billi, pereżempju l-karozzi tal-linja eżistenti jkunu konvertiti biex jaħdmu bil-metan.

L-iskart li niġġeneraw huwa wġiegħ ta’ ras ambjentali kbira li fl-aħħar qed jingħata iktar attenzjoni. Presentement qed ikun indirizzat l-iskart organiku ġġenerat mill-qasam domestiku. Jekk dan l-iskop jintlaħaq dan jista’ jagħti riżultati tajbin għax l-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar nofs l-iskart li niġġeneraw mid-djar tagħna. Imma hemm ħtieġa urġenti ukoll li l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu jiffukaw ftit attenzjoni fuq l-iskart organiku li jiġġeneraw ir-restoranti u faċilitajiet simili għax dan il-qasam kien traskurat għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin.

Il-qasam tal-iskart jista’ jiġġenera ħafna impiegi ambjentali (green jobs) f’industrija tar-riċiklaġġ li għad tista’ tikber għax għandha potenzjal kbir. Din hi problema li kibret magħna tul is-snin minħabba traskuraġni: nistgħu bi ftit attenzjoni nittrasformawha f’opportunitá li mhux biss tissarraf fi kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar imma ukoll f’ġid ekonomiku.

ippubblikat fl-Illum  – 28 ta’ Mejju 2017

Green and clean :  beyond land use planning and hunting

It is obvious to everyone that the environment is nowadays an integral part of the political lexicon of all the political parties in Malta. Whether this is out of conviction or out of convenience is,  however, another story altogether. Irrespective of the objective, it is still however positive to observe this development.

Reckless land use planning over the years, as well as irresponsible and unsustainable hunting, have been at the forefront of the environmental agenda for quite some time and I have already written extensively on these topics. Caring for the environment signifies much more than this, even though both land use planning and hunting will, of necessity remain at the top of Malta’s environmental agenda.

However, competing for attention and resources, the quality of the air we breath – as well as the waste we generate – are two specific areas which will undoubtedly be on the environmental action agenda in the months and years ahead. These are areas which the environmental lobby has been emphasising for years on end as being crucial in determining a better quality of life for all.

Air quality has to be tackled head on through the formulation of a transport strategy that seeks to encourage alternative forms of sustainable access between our towns and villages. This will most probably be a combination of various means and actions.

The proposed metro is an option worth considering, even though details are currently not available. The metro will only be feasible if it is linked with focused action on reducing the number of cars from the road and ensuring that all remaining cars on the road, after a reasonable transition, are electric cars. It is useless promoting a metro and simultaneously retaining a substantial programme of road-widening and/or construction of flyovers. Improving the road network will only ease traffic congestion temporarily but it will simultaneously increase the capacity for more traffic leading in turn to more traffic congestion.

Encouraging the use of bicycles and pedelecs will contribute substantially to improved mobility and a better quality of life, including ever-improving air quality. Substantial investment in the bicycle infrastructure  is however required. This must include the provision of more bicycle friendly roads and shower facilities at places of work as an essential pre-requisite, together with more bicycle parking areas.

Different forms of public transport using clean energy should also be encouraged – for example, converting existing public buses to the use of methane as their primary fuel.

Waste management is another environmental headache, and which has, of late, been receiving more attention. An effort is currently under way to address the organic fraction of the household waste generated. If properly managed this could lead to substantial results as organic waste accounts for around 50 per cent of all the household waste generated. The tourism authorities must, however, seek to focus on the organic waste generated by bars and restaurants as MTA has neglected this matter for far to long.

Proper waste management can result in the generation of green jobs in the recycling industry – which is still in its infancy but holds a lot of potential.  It is an opportunity to transform a problem caused by neglect over the years  into an opportunity which will be both green and clean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 28 May 2017