Turiżmu li jagħti kas lin-nies

Id-dibattitu dwar l-impatti tat-turiżmu hu wieħed li ma jispiċċa qatt. X’impatti soċjali u ambjentali huma ġustifikabbli minħabba l-gwadann ekonomiku tat-turiżmu? Ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż, fi ftit kliem x’numru ta’ turisti jifilħu?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Tony Zahra, President tal-MHRA (l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti) kien kritiku dwar in-numru ta’ turisti u l-impatt tagħhom. Kien rappurtat li qal li n-numru ta’ turisti li qed jiġu Malta kien qed jikber wisq. Emfasizza li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għall-impatti li jiġġeneraw daqshekk turisti. L-interess ta’ Tony Zahra fit-turiżmu dejjem kien limitat għall-impatt fuq dawk li joperaw il-lukandi: fejn Zahra għandu l-interessi finanzjarji tiegħu. Għadni qatt ma smajt lill- MHRA u lil Tony Zahra, per eżempju, jinkoraġixxu l-agri-turiżmu, u l-importanza ta’ dan (kieku jsir sewwa) biex jiddiversifika b’mod sostenibbli l-prodott turistiku Malti.

Kważi simultanjament għall-kummenti ta’ Tony Zahra, l-Istitut tal-Università ta’ Malta dwar il-Gżejjer u l-Istati Żgħar (The Islands and Small States Institute) ippubblika studju tal-Professuri Lino Briguglio u Marie Avellino, intitolat : Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

Fl-istudju tagħhom, Briguglio u Avellino jagħtu daqqa t’għajn u jidentifikaw dak li għaddej fit-turiżmu u jidentifikaw l-argumenti kritiċi li qed ikunu żviluppati dwar il-materja. Turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism) u l-biża’ mit-turiżmu (tourismphobia) huma termini li qed jintużaw bi frekwenza li qed tiżdied biex jiddeskrivu l-impatti soċjali negativi li qed jiżviluppaw bħala riżultat ta’ turiżmu li qed jikber kważi bla rażan. Kien fl-2008 li l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado ddeskriva it- turistofobia bħala taħlita ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu.

Fl-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino hu analizzat stħarriġ li għalih, 51% ta’ dawk li wieġbu qalu illi ma jixtiqux jaraw iktar turisti fil-belt jew raħal tagħhom. L-awturi jinterpretaw dan bħala li jindika li t-turiżmu f’Malta kiber wisq (overtourism), avolja jqisu li l-kampjun ta’ dawk li wieġbu l-istħarriġ hu ftit dgħajjef minħabba li mhux rappresentattiv b’mod adegwat.

Fost l-affarijiet li qed jikkontribwixxu għall-iżvilupp ta’ din il-biża mit-turiżmu hemm il-pressjonijiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali (kemm skart b’mod ġenerali kif ukoll il-kontribut għal attività esaġerata tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni), konġestjoni tat-traffiku, storbju, it-theddida tat-telf tal-identità kulturali u konflitti soċjo-kulturali.

L-MHRA, kif indika Tony Zahra, tidher li hi tal-istess fehma, avolja Zahra tkellem b’mod ġenerali u evita li jitkellem fid-dettall. L-interess tiegħu, wara kollox, hu l-impatt fuq il-but tal-membri tal-MHRA.

L-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tfittex li tindirizza l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija. Dan mhux biss biex tkun indirizzat il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti lokali imma ukoll biex l-esperjenza tat-turist tkun waħda aħjar u awtentika. It-triq ‘il-quddiem, jgħidulna Briguglio u Avellino, hi d-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku u dan billi jkun inkoraġġit l-impenn tar-residenti milquta fil-komunitajiet tagħna. L-awturi ma jidħlux f’dettall biex jispjegaw dan kollu x’jista’ jfisser. Għandna nifhmu, iżda, li l-proċess tat-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jikkonċernaw l-iżvilupp tat-turiżmu għandhom ikunu soġġetti għal skrutinju pubbliku kontinwu. Dan m’għandux ifisser biss is-sehem tar-residenti milquta f’dan l-iskrutinju imma fuq kollox li dak li jgħidu jkun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Permezz tad-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku, hu iktar possibli li l-interessi u aġendi konfliġġenti fit-turiżmu jkunu indirizzati. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-imprenditur li jħares lejn il-qliegħ immedjat ikollu jiffaċċja r-realtajiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali u kulturali tal-ħidma tiegħu. Bħalissa l-operaturi turistiċi jimpalaw il-profitti u aħna, l-bqija, ndewwu l-feriti soċjali, kulturali u ambjentali li jkunu ħolqu b’ħidmiethom.

It-turiżmu mhiex attività li issir f’bozza. Isseħħ f’komunità magħmula min-nies li għandhom ikollhom l-assigurazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom mhux ser taqla’ daqqa l-isfel bħala riżultat. It-turiżmu mhux dwar numri ta’ turisti, miljuni ta’ ewro li jintefqu inkella dwar il-kontribut lejn il-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Hu ukoll dwar il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

It-turiżmu sostenibbli huwa primarjament dwar in-nies u mhux dwar il-profitt. Stennejna iktar minn biżżejjed biex dawk li huma effettwati jkunu assigurati li l-ħajja tagħhom ma tibqax imtappna minn dawk li jaraw biss il-flus. Biex dan iseħħ ma hemm l-ebda alternattiva għajr li l-iżvilupp turistiku jkun demokratizzat.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’Awwissu 2019

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The democratisation of tourism

The debate on the impacts of tourism is never-ending. To what extent does the economic impact of tourism justify its social and environmental impacts? What is the carrying capacity of our islands, that is, what is the number of tourists with which our resources can reasonably cope?

Earlier this week, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it is substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra’s interest in tourism is limited to the impacts on hotels and hoteliers, his bread and butter. I have yet to hear the MHRA and Tony Zahra advocating agri-tourism, for example, and its importance in diversifying Malta’s tourism product sustainably.

Almost simultaneously The Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta published a Paper authored by Professors Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, entitled: Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

In their Paper Briguglio/Avellino skim though the issues, identifying the trends and an ever-growing literature on over-tourism. “Over-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are increasingly used as terms to describe the emergence of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. It was way back in 2008 that  the Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado had described turistofobia as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

In a survey which is discussed in the Briguglio/Avellino paper, 51 per cent of respondents said that they did not want to see more tourists in their town or village. The authors interpret this as indicating the existence of over-tourism in the Maltese islands, even though they consider the sample of respondents as being weak and not adequately representative.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The MHRA, as indicated by its President Tony Zahra, seems to be on the same wavelength although Tony Zahra limits himself to speaking in general terms, as his primary interest is the financial bottom-line of MHRA members.

The Briguglio/Avellino paper points at the need for tourism policy to consider mitigating the negative impacts of tourism. This could address not just the well-being of the local residents but also the tourist experience. The democratisation of tourism development through encouraging the active participation of the residents suffering the impact in our communities, opine Briguglio/Avellino, could be the way forward. The authors do not go in detail as to what the “democratisation of tourism development” would actually mean. It is, however, understood that the decision-making process of tourism development should be subjected to more public scrutiny by the community suffering from the impact and, that the views of the community are not only heard but acted upon.

Through the democratisation of tourism development, the conflicting interests and agendas involved in tourism must be addressed. As a result, the short-term gains of tourism entrepreneurs would be compelled to face the reality of social responsibility, as well as cultural and environmental costs. So far, the tourism operators pocket the profits and we, the rest, face the impacts.

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively upon as a result of the experience. Tourism is not just about numbers of tourists, or the millions of euros spent or a contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

Sustainable tourism is primarily about people – not about profit! Is it not about time that those feeling the impacted are involved in ensuring that their lives are not made miserable by others whose vision is limited to euros on the horizon?

The democratisation of touristic development is the only way forward.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 August 2019

Ir-reputazzjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Hu tad-daħq li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa skoprejna illi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi mħassba dwar li possibilment saret ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

Din kienet aħbar, għax sal-lum, l-impressjoni ġenerali ta’ bosta minna kienet li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tiġi taqa’ u tqum mir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

F’numru ta’ protesti u kontro-protesti ppreżentati l-Qorti f’dawn il-ġranet, residenti ta’ Pembroke talbu d-danni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’konnessjoni mal-mod kif din imxiet fil-konfront tagħhom dwar il-proġett tad-dB. Il-Grupp dB, min-naħa l-oħra lagħabha tal-vittma meta bi qdusija artifiċjali akkuża lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li ma għamlet xejn dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju ta’ wieħed mill-membri tal-Bord tal-istess Awtorità – l-aġent tal-propjetà. B’riżultat ta’ dan, qalet li sofriet danni sostanzjali meta l-permess ta’ żvilupp dwar l-iżvilupp massiċċ fil–Bajja ta’ San Ġorg tħassar mill-Qorti.

Fit-tweġiba tagħha, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar akkużat lill-Grupp dB li kien hu stess li ħoloq il-kunflitt ta’ interess li dwaru kien qed jilmenta. Dan billi għamel użu mis-servizzi ta’ aġent tal-propjetà li kien ukoll membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtorità kompliet temfasizza li hi ma kelliex idea dwar, u ma kienitx taf illi l-propjetà tad-dB kienet diġà fuq is-suq qabel ma biss il-kaz tela’ quddiem il-Bord għall-approvazzjoni, sintendi bil-vot favorevoli tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-Bord.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kompliet tgħid li l-Grupp dB, bħala riżultat tal-mod kif opera ikkawża ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha. Din kienet sorpriża, għax ħafna ma kellhom l-ebda idea li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kella xi reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi!

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar taf li kull membru tal-Bord tagħha, hekk kif jinħatar, jeħtieġ li jimla formula li fiha jagħti informazzjoni dwar l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha. Il-membru tal-Bord li qed nitkellmu dwaru, l-aġent tal-propjetà Matthew Pace, diġa iddikjara pubblikament li hu mexa mal-proċeduri stabiliti, li jfisser illi f’din il-formola huwa iddikjara l-interess tiegħu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetà.

Jekk dan hu minnu, x’għamlet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hekk kif irrealizzat li wieħed mill-membri l-ġodda tagħha kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà? Kieku jkollna tweġiba onesta għal din il-mistoqsija bla ebda dubju jkollna idea tajba dwar kif l- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tħares “ir-reputazzjoni” tagħha. Imma, safejn naf jien, ma għamlet xejn: jew minħabba li m’għandha l-ebda reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi, inkella minħabba li tiġi taqa’ u tqum!

Apparti dan kollu, waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, kull membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li kull meta l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha jkunu f’kunflitt mar-responsabbiltajiet bħala membru tal-Bord jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal dan billi jagħmel dikjarazzjoni f’dan is-sens waqt il-laqgħa. Wara li jkun għamel dikjarazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta, imbagħad, il-membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li jimxi skond kif jipprovdi l-artiklu 13 tal-Att dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp u ma jipparteċipax fil-laqgħa jew laqgħat li jista’ jkollhom x’jaqsmu mal-interessi tiegħu. Minn dak li hu magħruf, dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi huma rari waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

L-interess ta’ dan l-aġent tal-propjetà fil-proġett tad-dB illum huma magħrufa. Ikun interessanti, imma, dwar kemm kien hemm iktar propjetajiet li kienu fuq il-kotba tal-aġenzija tiegħu li kienu ukoll suġġett tal-aġenda li hu kellu sehem biex jiddeċiedi dwarha! Din hi informazzjoni li s’issa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma għamlitx pubblika, għax li kieku kellha tagħmel dan bis-serjetà, malajr inkunu nafu kif l-Awtorità ndukrat ir-reputazzjoni tagħha tul is-snin!

Fil-fehma tiegħi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi awtorità amorali, fejn il-prinċipji huma irrelevanti. Għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, l-unika ħaġa importanti għall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hu li ma tkunx ostaklu għal min irid idawwar lira!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Awwissu 2019

The Planning Authority and its “reputation”

It is quite hilarious to discover that the Planning Authority is worried about possible damage to its reputation! This is news, because, to date the general impression that most of us have is that the Planning Authority does not give a f..k about its reputation.

In a spate of protests and counter-protests presented in Court over the past days, Pembroke residents have requested the payment of damages from the Planning Authority over its handling of the dB project. The dB Group, on the other hand, has sanctimoniously accused the Planning Authority of not acting on the obvious conflict of interest of one of its Board Members – the estate agent – thereby causing it damage as a result of the annulment by the Court of the development permit for the St. George’s Bay City Centre project.

Not to be outdone, in its reply the Planning Authority has accused the dB Group of giving rise to the very conflict-of-interest subject of its complaint. This, it argued, was carried out by making use of the services of an estate agent who was simultaneously a member of the Planning Authority Board. The PA further emphasised that it was not aware that the dB property was on the market even before the matter was decided upon with the estate agent PA Board member voting in favour: obviously!

The Planning Authority also pointed out that, as a result of the way it acted throughout, the dB Group has caused considerable damage to its reputation.

Really? I was not aware that the Planning Authority had any reputation worth preserving!

Now the Planning Authority is aware that each and every member of its Board would, upon being appointed, have submitted a detailed form listing his/her interests. The member in question, the estate agent Matthew Pace, has already declared in public that he has followed all applicable procedures which means that, among other things, he has declared an interest in an estate agency.

If this is correct, what did the Planning Authority do when it realised that one of its new members had an interest in an estate agency? Having an honest answer to this query would throw considerable light as to how the Planning Authority guarded its “reputation”. To my knowledge it did nothing, either because it has no reputation to protect or else because it was not bothered!

In addition, during meetings of the Planning Authority Board, every member of the Board is duty bound to point out instances where his/her private interests conflict with his/her responsibilities as a Board Member. After making a full disclosure of his/her interest the Board Member is obliged – in terms of article 13 of the Development Planning Act – to refrain from participating in the meeting or meetings which could have a bearing on his/her interest. From what is known, such disclosures are a very rare occurrence at PA Board meetings.

The estate agent’s interest in the dB project is now well-known. It would be interesting to know how many other properties on the estate agent’s books were also items on the agenda he had a role in deciding. This is a question that the PA has not answered yet. Maybe an answer could give a significant boost to its reputation!

In my books the Planning Authority is an amoral authority, where principles are irrelevant. At the end of the day, what counts is not being an obstacle to making hay, while the sun shines!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 August 2019

Kunflitt ta’interess fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Il-validità tal-permess tal-ippjanar dwar il-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke ġie ikkontestat fuq bażi ta’ tmintax-il raġuni differenti, li jvarjaw minn kunflitt ta’ interess sa miżinterpretazzjoni u/jew applikazzjoni żbaljata tar-regoli dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

F’dan l-istadju, l-Qorti hi hu tħassar il-permess dehrilha li ma kienx neċessarju li tidħol fid-dettall dwar kull waħda minn minn dawn it-tminatax-il raġuni: waqfet fl-ewwel waħda, il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-membru tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar Matthew Pace u l-interess tiegħu f’aġenzija li ġġib il-quddiem il-negozju tal-propjetà. Żewġ interessi li b’mod ovvju, għal kulħadd ħlief għal Pace, l-Awtorità u l-Gvern, ġie meqjus li huma konfliġġenti. L-aġenzija li fiha Matthew Pace għandu interess kienet diġa qed tirreklama l-bejgħ tal-appartamenti sa minn qabel mal-permess tal-ippjanar ġie approvat, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-Qorti użat il-frażijiet “kunflitt ta’ interess” u “nuqqas ta’ trasparenza”. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, imma, b’Malti sempliċi u li jinftiehem mill-ewwel dan hu kaz ta’ regħba da parti tal-membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li hu nvolut kif ukoll inkompetenza grassa da parti ta’ dawk li ħatruh fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar meta l-interessi tiegħu kienu diġà magħrufa.

Ilkoll nafu li l-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinħatru direttament mill-Prim Ministru, u allura ma nistgħux inkunu iktar ċari minn hekk: huwa u jaħtar lil Matthew Pace bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, il-Prim Ministru naqas milli jifhem il-konsegwenzi tal-ħatra ta’ agent tal-propjetà fuq il-bord li jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

Nhar it-Tlieta, l-Qorti annullat deċiżjoni waħda tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha ipparteċipa Matthew Pace. Kemm ilu li nħatar fuq il-Bord, sa mill-2013, Matthew Pace, ħa sehem f’numru sostanzjali ta’ deċiżjonijiet oħra li ttieħdu mill-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-mistoqsija loġika hi dwar il-każi l-oħra li dwarhom ukoll kellu interess u li anke hawn dan l-interess ma ġiex iddikjarat. In-numru ta’ każi kontroversjali deċiżi mhux żgħir imma din il-mistoqsija qatt ma saret s’issa, ta’ l-inqas fil-pubbliku.

Il-każ, kif emfasizzat il-Qorti, hu wieħed li jiffoka fuq l-imġieba ta’ dawk li jokkupaw ħatra pubblika.

Il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu dikjarazzjioni annwali dwar l-assi u l-interessi tagħhom. Ikun ferm interessanti kieku l-pubbliku jkollu informazzjoni preċiża dwar x’sar mid-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-membri kurrenti tal-Bord. Is-Segretarju tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, huwa u jixhed quddiem it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar qal li dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet ma setgħux jintbagħtu, kif suppost, lill-Awditur Ġenerali, għax dawn ma ġewx aċċettati min-naħa tiegħu. Imma, jirriżulta minn tweġibiet elettroniċi tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wkoll ġew ippreżentati bħala xhieda, li dan mhux il-kaz: l-Awditur Ġenerali qatt ma irrifjuta li jaċċetta dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet dwar l-assi u l-interessi tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Minn dan kollu jqum il-punt dwar kemm huma effettivi l-kontrolli stabiliti mil-liġi dwar il-posizzjoni etika ta’ dawk maħtura bħala membri tal-Bord. Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi u l-interessi, sal-lum meqjusa bħala għodda importanti qiesha saret ta’ bla ebda siwi u dan minħabba li wara li ġiet sottomessa ma kienitx eżaminata mill-Awditur Ġenerali. Dan iħarbat il-proċess kollu ta’ kontroll, għax hu ovvju li l-Awditur Ġenerali ġie ostakolat milli jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru u għaldaqstant ma setax jiġbed l-attenzjoni għall-konflitti ovvji li jirriżultaw meta taħtar agent tal-propjetà biex jiddeċiedi fuq materji dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nittama li l-Awditur Ġenerali, anke issa, jipprova jirrimedja billi jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru ħalli l-kontrolli jkunu applikati sakemm u safejn hu umanament possibli.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu diġa, minnu innifsu, kontroversjali, għax kważi dejjem jinvolvi numru mhux żgħir ta’ interessi konfliġġenti. Tal-inqas għandna nassiguraw li dawk maħtura biex jiddeċiedu jimxu bir-reqqa.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 23 ta’Ġunju 2019

Managing conflict of interest at the Planning Authority

The validity of the planning permit in respect of the dB project at Pembroke has been contested on the basis of eighteen different reasons, ranging from conflict of interest to misinterpretation and/or wrongful application of land use planning policy.

In its decision, declaring the dB Pembroke permit null and void earlier this week, the Court did not consider it necessary, at this stage, to delve into each and every one of these 18 reasons: it stopped at the first one: the conflict of interest of one member of the Planning Board, Matthew Pace, whose interest in an estate agency was found to be an obvious no-go area. Apparently the conflict is obvious to everyone, except Pace, the Authority and Government. Even before the final planning decision, his estate agency was already advertising the sale of the apartments – the construction of which was yet to be approved –  with the support of his vote.

The legal terms used in the Court decision are “conflict of interest” and “lack of transparency”. In the end, however, it all boils down to greed on the part of the Planning Authority Board Member and consequently gross incompetence on the part of those appointing him as a member of the Planning Authority Board when his interests were well known.

We all know that the PA Board members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, so I cannot be clearer than this: in the appointment of Matthew Pace as a member of the Planning Authority Board, the Prime Minister failed to understand the implications of appointing an estate agent as a land-use planning decision-taker.

Last Tuesday, the Court annulled one planning decision in which Matthew Pace had participated. Since his appointment as a member of the Planning Authority Board in 2013, Matthew Pace has participated in a large number of planning decisions. The logical question to ask is in what other cases did he have a conflict of interest that was also not declared. There is a countless list of controversial cases decided upon over the years, but this issue has never arisen, at least not in public.

The case, as emphasised by the Court in its decision, is one that puts the focus on the behaviour of those appointed to public office.

The members of the Board of the Planning Authority are duty bound to submit an annual declaration regarding their assets and interests . It would be interesting if reliable information was available regarding what has happened to the declarations submitted by the current Board members. The Secretary of the Planning Authority Board, when giving evidence at the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, stated that these declarations could not be sent – as required – to the Auditor General, as they were not accepted at that end. However, it is known from replies to emails by the Auditor General, also presented as evidence, that this is not the case.

This raises the serious question as to the effectiveness of the checks required by law on the ethical suitability of the Board members. One such tool – the declaration of assets and interests – has been rendered useless as clearly it is not being examined by the Auditor General when submitted. This stultifies the whole process as the Auditor General was obviously impeded from examining the declarations made and, consequently, could not draw attention to the obvious conflicts arising as a result of having an estate agent appointed to make decisions regarding land-use planning applications.

It is hoped that, even at this late stage, the Auditor General will consider it appropriate to examine the matter in order that adequate checks are as effective as is humanly possible. Land-use planning will always be controversial because it involves numerous conflicting interests. The least we can do is to ensure that those entrusted with taking these decisions act correctly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 June 2019

Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta: nipproteġuha

 

Ministri tal-Gvern, u ta’ madwarhom, qieshom qegħdin fil-kju għall-prosit wara li tħabbar li Ta’ Qali ser ikun estiż biex ikun l-ikbar spazju miftuħ f’Malta. Park Nazzjonali, qalulna. Sal-ħin li qed nikteb għadu mhux ċar x’inhu propost eżattament, avolja l-fatt fih innifsu li l-ispazji miftuħa aċċessibli għal kulħadd ser jiżdiedu hu pass posittiv u li hu inkoraġġanti.

Huwa biss biż-żmien li nistgħu nsiru nafu jekk din l-aħbar hix intenzjonata biex tostor azzjonijiet oħra, bħal, pereżempju, l-qerda ta’ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta. Ninsab infurmat li din il-possibilità, li Villa Gollcher tinqerd u flokha jkun żviluppat xi ħaġa oħra, ġiet diskussa minn kandidat tal-Partit Laburista għall-Kunsill Lokali tal-Mosta waqt laqgħa b’attendenza miżera li saret għall-komunità tan-negożju fil-Mosta. Speċifikament issemmiet il-possibilità li fuq sit li effettivament hu protett ikun ipprovdut parkeġġ għal 500 karozza!

Villa Gollcher qiegħda fil-qalba urbana tal-Mosta b’kejl superfiċjali ta’ madwar 13,000 metru kwadru. Il-parti l-kbira tas-sit hi okkupata minn ġnien mimli b’siġar taċ-ċitru. Villa Gollcher mhix skedata. Imma kont sorpriż meta identifikajt li hemm protezzjoni permezz tal-policy CG09 tal-pjan lokali għaċ-Ċentru ta’ Malta li kien approvat fl-2006. Mhux normali li nsibu sorpriżi bħal dawn fil-pjani lokali għax ġeneralment dawn kienu użati biex ikun immassakrat il-wirt mibni tagħna.

Il-Pjan Lokali jenfasizza li siti bħal Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, bi ġnien imdaqqas, identifikati bħala spażji mhux mibnija bejn il-bini, għandhom ikunu mħarsa. Il-pjan lokali għaldaqstant jipprovdi li m’għandhomx ikunu kkunsidrati proposti biex isir żvilupp fuq dawn is-siti li bħala riżultat tiegħu jinħolqu binjiet separati, residenzjali jew mhux, u dan inkluż garaxxijiet għall-karozzi. L-unika possibiltajiet li jistgħu jkunu kkunsidrati huma dawk li jikkonċernaw xogħol żgħir immirat biex jikkonserva u/jew jirrestawra dawn it-tip ta’ propjetajiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana. Jista’ jkun hemm il-possibilità ukoll għal żidiet żgħar kompatibbli mar-regoli għaż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana imma jidher li hu possibli li Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta insalvawha.

Dejjem hemm il-logħob tal-iżviluppaturi, pereżempju, li ma jiħdux ħsieb il-bini biex tiġrilu l-ħsara u eventwalment ma jibqa’ xejn x’ikun protett! Biex nevitaw dawn l-affarijiet għandna ninsistu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex tagħti kont ta’ egħmilha. Dan billi tassigura li sidien il-propjetà ma jippruvawx jonqsu mill-obbligi tagħhom biex jirnexxielhom jevitaw milli jintlaħqu l-miri tal-pjan lokali intenzjonati biex ikunu protetti ż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana.

Jiena infurmat li minkejja dan kollu, diġa ġie iffirmat konvenju biex tinbiegħ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, u dan soġġett li jinħareġ permess ta’ żvilupp mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għal svilupp massiċċ. Qed jissemmew miljuni kbar ta’ euro. Ilkoll nafu x’kapaċi jagħmlu l-flus!

Hemm ħafna ġonna mdaqqsa li jeħtieġilhom u jixirqilhom ikunu protetti fiż-żoni urbani tagħna li qegħdin fil-periklu li jkunu ssagrifikati u jkunu soġġetti għal żvilupp. Biex dan iseħħ irid ikun hemm il-kompliċità tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, għax il-bqija dan ma jistax iseħħx. Huwa dover tagħna li nassiguraw li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tkun kontinwament attenta biex dan ikun evitat f’kull ħin. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandha tkun iffukata biex twettaq dmirha ħalli l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art ikun servizz li minnu tibbenefika l-komunità kollha.

Forsi, min jaf, il-ħarsien tal-wirt mibni tagħna ikun xi ftit iktar faċli milli hu illum.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Mejju 2019

Hands off Mosta’s Villa Gollcher

Government Ministers, and hangers-on, are queuing to share credit for the announcement regarding Ta’ Qali’s extension into the largest open space in Malta. A National Park. At the time of writing, it is not at all clear as to what is being proposed -even though the number of increasing accessible open spaces is laudable.

Time will tell whether this announcement will be used to camouflage other action, such as – for example – the chopping up of Villa Gollcher in Mosta. I am informed that this possibility, the demolition of Villa Gollcher and the redevelopment of the site, was recently discussed by a Labour Party Mosta Local Council candidate during a sparsely attended meeting for the Mosta business community. Specifically mentioned was the possibility of providing parking for 500 cars on what is currently a protected site: Villa Gollcher.

Villa Gollcher lies within the urban core of Mosta. It has a superficial area of around 13,000 square metres. Most of the area is taken up by a large garden full of citrus trees. Villa Gollcher is not scheduled. However, I was surprised to identify its protection through Policy CG09 of the Malta Central Local Plan which was approved in 2006. A pleasant surprise – which I am not accustomed to finding in the Local Plans as they have generally been used time and again to place our built heritage on the development chopping board.

The Local Plan, in fact, underlines the special provisions applicable in respect of sites which, like Villa Gollcher in Mosta, are identified as open space enclaves. In this respect, it is stated in the Local Plan, that the Planning Authority “will not consider any development or redevelopment proposals that create new independent residential/non-residential units, including garages for the parking of vehicles.” The only possible developments which may be considered are very minor ones which are aimed at converting/restoring this, and similar properties, in urban conservation areas. There may be room for minor additions compatible with Urban Conservation rules but I believe that – on the basis of the above-quoted policy – it is possible to save Mosta’s Villa Gollcher.

Of course there are the usual tricks which developers play, such as facilitating the dilapidation process through a lack of maintenance. In this respect, we should hold the Planning Authority to account: with appropriate measures it should ensure that owners of properties do not try to successfully stultify the Local Plan policies intended to protect the character of our urban conservation areas.

I am informed that, notwithstanding all this, a promise of sale has been entered into respect of Villa Gollcher, subject to the condition of the issuance of development permits for a large-scale redevelopment. Millions of euros are in play and at stake and we all know that money talks.

Many large gardens worthy of protection in our old urban areas are at risk of being sacrificed on the development chopping board. This will only be possible with the complicity of the Planning Authority and it is our duty to ensure that the Planning Authority is kept on its toes in order that this is avoided. It should be focused on carrying out its duties in ensuring that land use planning is a service from which the whole community stands to gain.

Maybe, who knows, protecting our heritage would be an easier task than it is today.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 May 2019

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet raqdet?

Id-dokument tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar intitolat Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space kien approvat f’Ġunju 2016. Permezz ta’ dan id-dokument hu regolat it-tqegħid ta’ siġġijiet u mwejjed fi spazji pubbliċi minn stabbilimenti li jservu l-ikel. Fid-daħla għal dan id-dokument jintqal li l-possibilità li spazju pubbliku jintuża b’dan il-mod jgħin fit-tisħiħ tal-valur ta’ dawn l-istabilimenti li jservu l-ikel.

It-triq li wasslet biex ikun konkluż u approvat dan id-dokument kienet waħda meqjusa bħala proċess ta’ simplifikazzjoni tal-proċess burokratiku, biex is-sidien tan-negozju jinqdew malajr u ma joqgħodux jaħlu ħafna ħin jiġru minn uffiċċju għall-ieħor biex jinkiseb permess! Kien hemm diversi entitajiet involuti. Però, l-iktar importanti minnhom, l-Kunsilli Lokali, ma kienux hemm. Dan hu rifless fid-dokument innifsu għax dan iħares l-interessi tan-negozju iżda ftit li xejn jagħti kaz tal-interessi tar-residenti.

Id-dokument jipprovdi illi meta jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għal permessi biex stabilimenti li jservu l-ikel jokkupaw spazju pubbliku b’imwejjed u siggijiet għandu jkun assigurat li jitħallew passaggi mhux okkupati biex minnhom ikun jista’ jgħaddi l-pubbliku mingħajr diffikulta. Għandu anke jkun assigurat li l-aċċess għal propjetà ta’ terzi kif ukoll għal servizzi pubbliċi jitħalla liberu. Id-dokument jinsisti ukoll li fuq bankini f’toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità kbira m’għandhomx jinħarġu permessi għall-imwejjed u siġġijiet.

Minkejja dan kollu, ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira fid-direzzjoni lejn Tas-Sliema u mbagħad ipprova kompla għaddej lejn ix-Xatt ta’ Tignè. Ikollok diffikultà konsiderevoli biex tgħaddi għax il-ħwienet, bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet, irnexxielhom jittrasforma propjetà pubblika f’parti integrali min-negozju tagħhom. Jirnexxielek tgħaddi b’diffikultà kbira. Għar-residenti li joqgħodu fil-flats fuq dawn in-negozji id-diffikultà hi ferm ikbar.

Dan hu r-riżultat ta’ politika li tpoġġi l-interess tan-negożji qabel l-interess tar-residenti. Infrastruttura aċċessibli u sikura m’hiex prijorità fil-politika tal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Riċentement, fl-aħħar, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ħadet id-deċiżjoni tajba li tirrifjuta applikazzjoni mis-sidien ta’ lukanda fix-Xatt tal-Gżira biex zona riżervata għall-parking tkun tista’ tintuża ħalli fuqha jitpoġġew siġġijiet u mwejjed li minnhom isservi l-ikel.

Meta is-sidien tal-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet huma ngħataw deċiżjoni mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv li bħalha ma tantx ikollna. F’din id-deċiżjoni ġie emfasizzat li l-politika dwar it-tqegħid tal-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi biex minnhom jisserva l-ikel tipprojibixxi li dawn jitqegħdu fil-viċinanzi ta’ toroq arterjali inkella minnfejn jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità sostanzjali. In-nies, qalet id-deċiżjoni, għandhom ikunu mħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll minn arja mniġġsa.

L-inċidenti fil-fatt iseħħu. Madwar disa’ xhur ilu, f’Lulju 2018, Olandiż ta’ 25 sena li kien miexi għall-affari tiegħu tul ix-Xatt ta’ San Ġiljan ġie mtajjar minn karozza li kienet għaddejja b’veloċità esaġerata u li kienet misjuqa minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li skond ma kien rappurtat kien qabeż il-limitu permissibli ta’ alkoħol li seta jixrob. L-Olandiż miet. Oħrajn weġġgħu. Saret ukoll ħsara konsiderevoli.

Minkejja dan kollu għadna nistennew lill-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex tieħu passi f’diversi lokalitajiet biex fejn fil-passat inħarġu permessi għal imwejjed u siġġijiet fuq bankini u spazji pubbliċi oħra li huma viċin wisq ta’ toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċita kbira, dawn il-permessi jkun ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid u jiġu rtirati. Jekk l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ser iddum wisq ma tiċċaqlaq ser ikollha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-ewwel karozza li tispiċċa tkaxkar filliera mwejjed bin-nies madwarhom.

Qatt mhu tard biex tikkoreġi l-iżbalji. Żbalji li setgħu faċilment ġew evitati kieku ġew ikkonsultati l-Kunsilli Lokali.

Meta ser tiċċaqlaq l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 t’April 2019

 

When will the Lands’ Authority act?

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 7 April 2019