Open spaces and the 15-minute city

Having a substantially increased area of open spaces and ensuring that these spaces are accessible for all is good policy. The fact that currently we lack accessible open spaces is a failure of land use planning as practised in Malta, which is unfortunately speculation oriented instead of being focused on optimisation of land use as a contribution towards an improvement in the quality of life for all.

Government is embarking on a €700 million project in order to enhance existing open spaces as well as to create or to encourage the creation of new ones. No one would object to that provided that it is not an excuse for a different and undeclared objective.

In order for such a project to be successful it must be part of a long-term view of enhancing our surroundings such that we bridge the substantial and ever-widening gap which separates us from nature. However, what is really needed is a change in attitude towards the availability of public space as an essential element in the basic infrastructure required for an enhanced healthy quality of life.

While it is definitely an acceptable objective to create new open spaces, we could do much better if, as an essential first step we strive to retain existent open spaces and save them from destruction. Private gardens, some of them of a substantial size, forming an integral part of our urban areas and village cores have for quite some time been making way for the development of blocks of flats. These should be the first obvious open spaces which we should seek to protect if we are serious about the importance of open spaces. Such gardens have served as the lungs of our local communities for ages. They are in private ownership but they still contribute substantially to the wellbeing of our communities. This does not entail any expense. All it requires is a dose of consistency and plenty of goodwill.

Next on the protection list would be agricultural land which is being lost at an ever-accelerating rate. When agricultural land is not being engulfed by road-building or building development it is being taken up by those who want to transform it into BBQ or picnic land, as their private recreational hideout.  In the process they squeeze out farmers who have tilled the land for ages and contributed continuously to the national food production effort. Even this does not entail any expense. All it requires is properly functioning authorities, which we lack!

The urge for more open spaces is a longing to re-establish contacts with our roots, that is with nature. Nature has a role in every aspect of our life. We can only keep ignoring it at our peril. This would primarily signify that open spaces need to reintroduce nature into our localities and not introduce a number of token planters in concrete pots. Open spaces are about nature and not about the increased domination of our localities by concrete in whatever shape or form! Nor should they be used as parking spaces.

It has been emphasised that the current project of investing in open spaces aims to ensure that each and every one of us will have access to a public open space not more than ten minutes away from where he or she resides. This objective ties in with a current initiative in various European towns of developing a 15-minute city: that is a local community which is almost self-sufficient, all needs, or most of them being available not more than 15 minutes away. It is not just public open spaces which ought to be close by: all our basic needs should be within easy reach.

This would necessitate that we examine closely our urban fabric to realise that the small commercial outlets which have served our local communities for ages are heading towards extinction. They are being squeezed out of the market through the ever-increasing number of supermarkets and large commercial establishments.

The idea of ‘the 15-minute city’ initially put forward by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, but adopted by an ever-increasing number of cities entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

Small commercial outlets in our towns and villages require support as they are an essential help to make our communities vibrant: being of service and creating local employment in the process. Encouraging the local commercial outlets also reduces traffic at all times of the day as there will be less need to travel. It would also directly help in achieving that other objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Land use planning is for people. It is about time that this is put into practice. It is only within this context that the funding of community greening projects makes any sense.

published in The Independent on Sunday 29 January 2023

Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means. Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

Mqabba: vittma ta’ sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet

Madwar għoxrin sena ilu, l-awtorità responsabbli mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art, dakinnhar imsejħa l-MEPA, kienet ippubblikat pjan dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-minerali fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan id-dokument bl-isem Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands iġib id-data ta’ Mejju 2003.

Kif mistenni, dan il-Pjan hu dwar il-qafas regolatorju essenzjali biex issir l-estrazzjoni tal-minerali minn ġol-art. Primarjament dan jikkonċerna l-operazzjoni tal-barrieri biex tkun estratta l-ġebla Maltija. Dan hu qasam tal-kawbojs, qasam fejn ir-regolamentazzjoni hi skarsa u l-infurzar prattikament ineżistenti.

Fl-ewwel linji tiegħu, dan il-pjan jitkellem ċar ħafna billi jitkellem dwar il-kunflitt inevitabbli li jirriżulta mill-operazzjoni tal-barrieri. Jemfasizza li fi gżejjer li huma żgħar u b’popolazzjoni li hi iffullata hemm kunflitt mat-turiżmu u l-industrija, kif ukoll kemm mal-iżvilupp kummerċjali kif ukoll dak residenzjali. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali u ta’ dawk kulturali. Li jinħoloq bilanċ bejn il-ħtieġijiet tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni għar-riżorsi minerali f’kuntest ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli hi sfida ewlenija, jgħidlina l-pjan. Dan flimkien ma kunsiderazzjonijiet ta’ ippjanar ta’ użu ta’ art u konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali.

Il-pjan dwar il-minerali jitkellem ukoll fid-dettall dwar l-impatt fuq terzi: jiġifieri l-impatt fuq in-nies, kemm residenti kif ukoll dawk li jkunu fil-viċinanzi, hi x’inhi r-raġuni għal dan: dan jinkludi t-tfal tal-iskola primarja. Specifikament jikkunsidra l-impatti riżultat tal-istorbju u tat-trab li huma ġġenerati mit-tħaddim tal-barrieri, mhux biss mill-ħidma biex ikun estratt il-ġebel, imma ukoll minn attività anċillari.

Il-pjan jirreferi għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-istorbju u jgħid li l-permessi ta’ żvilupp għandhom jindirizzaw dan l-inkonvenjent b’diversi miżuri, fosthom permezz ta’ ilqugħ adegwat (acoustic screening), kontroll tal-ħinijiet tal-operazzjoni tal-barriera, li jkun stabilit il-massimu tal-istorbju permissibli u li l-attività storbjuża tkun l-iktar il-bogħod possibli minn żoni sensittivi.

Il-pjan jitkellem ukoll dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-ġenerazzjoni tat-trab. L-attività li tiġġenera t-trab għandha tkun il-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun minn żoni sensittivi. Hu rakkomandat ukoll mill-pjan li meta jinġemgħa fuq is-sit kwantità ta’ prodotti tal-ġebla (stockpiling) dan ikun mgħotti: dan inaqqas it-tixrid tat-trab u allura jgħin biex ikun indirizzat l-inkonvenjent.

Għandi kopja elettronika ta’ dan il-pjan li kont niżżilt minn fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xi snin ilu. Meta din il-ġimgħa erġajt fittixt, sibt li dan id-dokument sparixxa minn hemm: illum m’għadux aċċessibli fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità!  Safejn naf jien dan il-pjan għadu fis-seħħ imma, mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar diffiċli tgħid: għax qatt ma taf fejn int!

Ftakart f’dan kollu meta f’dawn il-ġranet ġejt ikkuntattjat minn residenti fl-Imqabba minħabba applikazzjoni tal-ippjanar (PA 0350/22) li daħlet reċentement dwar barriera fil-viċinanzi tal-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba.  Din l-applikazzjoni hi dwar attività diversa fil-barriera inkluż tkissir tal-ġebla biex tipproduċi ż-żrar kif ukoll dwar il-ħażna taż-żrar fs-sit (stock piling).

Ir-residenti qalulna, lili u lil Melissa Bagley, (kandidat tal-partit fuq id-distrett elettorali li minnu jifforma parti l-Imqabba) li ilhom jaqilgħu ġo fihom żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan għandhom raġun li joqgħodu lura milli jitkellmu direttament. Bħala partit aħna ser nitkellmu f’isimhom.

Jiena rajt il-file dwar din l-applikazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità tal-ippjanar u nħoss li għandi ngħid pubblikament li jiena mħasseb ħafna bir-reazzjoni tad-Direttorat tas-Saħħa Ambjentali li hi nieqsa minn kull sens ta’ responsabbiltà. Jonqos milli jitkellem dwar l-impatti negattivi fuq in-nies kemm tat-trab fin iġġenerat kif ukoll tal-istorbju. Ma jitkellimx dwar il-ħtieġa li dan ikun ikkontrollat mill-proċess tal-ippjanar innifsu.

L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi, min-naħa l-oħra, tistabilixxi numru ta’ kundizzjonijiet li għandhom ikunu osservati in lineja ma’ l-aħjar prattiċi ambjentali. Għandu jkun ċar, iżda li dawn il-miżuri u kundizzjonijiet jeħtieġ  li jkunu partiintegrali kemm minn eventwali permess ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll mill-permess operattiv li jinħareġ mill-ERA innifisha.

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, id-Dipartiment tal-Edukazzjoni għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu biex jipproteġi lill-istudenti fl-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba li hi daqstant viċin tal-barriera soġġett ta’ din l-applikazzjoni. Ma nafx x’qed jistennew biex jipproteġu lit-tfal Mqabbin mill-istorbju u t-trab fin ġġenerat mill-barriera!

B’mod konvenjenti l-anqas il-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imqabba ma fetaħ ħalqu. Imma dan ma jissorprendi lil ħadd.

Din hi materja serja u gravi li teħtieġ l-attenzjoni tagħna lkoll. Il-barrieri u l-ħidma fihom jinħtieġu li jkunu regolati sewwa biex il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ dawk kollha li jgħixu fil-madwar tkun imħarsa bis-serjetà.

Is-skiet, jew in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata, tal-awtoritajiet li nsemmi iktar il-fuq hi skandaluża. Din hi sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet. Meta l-iktar hemm bżonnhom, dawn jiġġammjaw.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’Novembru 2022

Mqabba: a victim of institutional sclerosis

Around twenty years ago, the authority responsible for land use planning, then named MEPA, had published a Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands. The plan is dated May 2003.

The Subject Plan, as expected, deals with the regulatory framework for mineral extraction, primarily limestone, which was then and still is now, cowboy territory. Regulation is scarce and enforcement in this sector is almost inexistent.

The Subject Plan fired a warning shot in its first lines by pinpointing the inevitable conflicts resulting from the operation of quarries. It emphasises that “in such small and densely populated islands there are inevitable land use conflicts between limestone extraction and tourism, industrial, commercial and residential development, and the preservation of the islands’ natural and cultural resources. Balancing the needs of the construction industry for mineral resources with other planning and environmental policies, in the context of sustainable development is a key challenge for this Mineral Subject Plan and for the day-to-day control of extraction and related activities.”

The Subject Plan considers impacts on third parties. Specifically, it considers the impacts of noise and dust resulting from quarry operations and ancillary activities.

With reference to noise, it states that planning permits will seek to regulate noise impacts through the use of acoustic screening, restricting operating hours, setting of permissible maximum noise levels, locating noisier operations as far as possible from noise sensitive locations and properties and ensuring appropriate stand-off distances between operations and sensitive locations.

On the other hand, the regulation of dust impacts in the said Mineral Subject plan is also fairly detailed in that it is required to site the dust generating activities away from sensitive locations, considering the direction of prevailing winds. Covering of stockpiles is also recommended.

I have an electronic copy of this Subject Plan which I downloaded some time ago from the Planning Authority website. Checking recently, it has apparently mysteriously disappeared: it is no longer accessible on the Planning Authority website! As far as I am aware this Subject Plan is still applicable. When dealing with the Planning Authority, however, one never knows for certain!

All this came to mind when I was recently contacted by a number of Mqabba residents relative to a planning application (PA 0350/22) submitted recently concerning a quarry in the vicinity of the Mqabba Primary School. The application seeks to carry out activities ancillary to quarrying, including crushing and stock piling of stone derived aggregate on site.

Residents, have informed me and Melissa Bagley, party candidate on the electoral district of which Mqabba forms part, that they have been at the receiving end for a long time. As a result, they are reluctant to speak up publicly. ADPD will be taking up their case and speaking on their behalf.

I have gone through the planning application file which is available online and must publicly state that I am shocked at the reactions of the Environmental Health Directorate which fails to make any submissions on the negative impacts of noise and dust generated as a result of quarry operations, and, on the need, to control them through the planning process itself.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), on the other hand, lists a number of conditions to be adhered to in line with best practice environmental measures. It should however be clear that these measures should be an integral part of both an eventual planning permit as well as the standard operational permit issued by ERA itself.

The Department of Education has so far not reacted in order to protect the students at Mqabba Primary School which school almost borders the quarry in question. What is it waiting for to protect Mqabba boys and girls from excessive noise and from continuously inhaling dust particles generated by the quarry operations?

The Mqabba Local Council is also conveniently silent. However, no one is surprised about that.

This is a very serious issue which needs our attention. Quarrying needs adequate regulation and prompt enforcement such that the quality of life of all those in the vicinity is adequately protected.

The silence (or the lack of appropriate action) of the relative public authorities listed above is scandalous. This is institutional sclerosis. When needed most the institutions we have fail to act.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 November 2022

In-negozjant tal-ikel Tork u sieħbu fin-negozju  

Il-mostru ta’ bini li approvat l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u li preżentement qed jinbena ħdejn il-kappella tal-Manikata kien ikkunsidrat li hu aċċettabbli, kemm mill-arċidjoċesi ta’ Malta kif ukoll mis-sopra-intendenza tal-wirt kulturali. Kemm l-Arċisqof kif ukoll is-Sopratendent tal-Wirt Kulturali jeħtieġ li jagħmlu apoloġija pubblika għax l-ewwel oġġezzjonaw minħabba li l-bini propost mhux postu ħdejn il-kappella u mbagħad, wara, irtiraw l-oġġezzjoni tagħhom. B’dak li għamlu, t-tnejn li huma taw kontribut biex dan il-mostru jimmaterjalizza.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-portal elettroniku Shift News svela li Malti fin-negozju tal-ikel Tork, li f’ismu daħlet applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex jinbena dan il-monstru  għandu sieħeb sieket fin-negozju: l-perit li iffirma l-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp. Skond ix-Shift News huwa jippossjedi 50 fil-mija tal-ishma tal-kumpanija Juke Developments Limited, il-kumpanija li qed tieħu ħsieb l-iżvilupp.

Mhux aċċettabbli li l-perit ikun ukoll żviluppatur.  Din hi imġieba ħażina li qed titfa’ dell ikrah fuq il-professjoni kollha. Hi materja ta’ etika li l-Kamra tal-Periti, li hi inkarigata milli tirregola l-professjoni, tevita kontinwament milli tesprimi ruħha u tieħu posizzjoni dwarha.

Madwar sentejn ilu, f’artiklu fuq Illum intitolat Il-perit-żviluppatur (8 ta’ Marzu 2020) kont ġbidt l-attenzjoni li l-perit inkarigat mill-proġett tal-Ħamrun, li fl-istadji inizzjali tiegħu kien wassal għall-mewt ta’ Miriam Pace, kien jippossjedi 10 fil-mija tal-ishma tal-kumpanija li kienet qed tieħu ħsieb l-iżvilupp.

Il-Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba Professjonali għall-periti fil-gżejjer Maltin jipprovdi li  Perit f’Malta “ma għandux jokkupa, jassumi jew xjentement jaċċetta kariga li fiha l-interess tiegħu jkun kontra d-dmirijiet professjonali tiegħu.”

Il-punt hu jekk id-doveri professjonali ta’ perit inkarigat minn żvilupp humiex f’kunflitt ma li tkun ukoll, fl-istess ħin “l-żviluppatur”. Il-perit inkarigat minn lant tax-xogħol huwa ultimament responsabbli  għal dak li jseħħ fuq il-lant  avolja illum ġieli jkun assistit minn xi site officer, li imma rari jkun fuq il-lant! L-iskop tal-żviluppatur, min-naħa l-oħra, kif jgħidu, hu li jdawwar lira: hu interessat li jimmassimizza l-profitti mill-iżvilupp tal-art.

Il-Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba Professjonali li semmejt iktar il-fuq jemfasizza li l-perit “jirċievi rimunerazzjoni biss bid-drittijiet professjonali tiegħu li jitħallsu mill-klijenti tiegħu u/jew bis-salarju tiegħu li jitħallas mill-prinċipal tiegħu. Hu ma jkunx jista’ jieħu rimunerazzjoni minn riżorsi oħra relattiva għax-xogħol u għad-dmirijiet fdati lilu.”   B’dan, fil-fehma tiegħi, hu ċar li perit ma jistax ikollu sehem minn profitti li jirriżultaw minn żvilupp tal-art u għaldaqstant m’għandux jaġixxi ta’ żviluppatur, la waħdu u l-anqas bi sħab ma ħaddieħor. Il-profitti mill-iżvilupp tal-art m’għandhomx ikunu l-motiv għall-ħidma professjonali tal-perit.  

Jidher li l-Kamra tal-Periti ma taqbilx ma dan għax b’mod konsistenti hi siekta dwar is-suġġett. Dan is-skiet hu inevitabilment interpretat bħala li l-Kamra tal-Periti qed taċċetta is-sitwazzjoni attwali. Mhux ta’ b’xejn, għaldaqstant li n-numru ta’ każi magħrufa ta’ periti li huma sħab fin-negozju ta’ żvilupp ta’ propjetà, imma li isimhom ma jidhirx, qiegħed jiżdied. Isimhom ma jidhirx għax huma konxji mill-kunflitt li hemm u jagħmlu ħilithom li jostru dan kollu fil-mixja tagħhom lejn sehem mill-profitti li jirriżultaw minn dan l-iżvilupp.

Bosta snin ilu, meta kont membru elett tal-Bord li jirregola l-ħruġ tal-warrant tal-periti kont ippreżentajt proposta biex dan kollu, jiġifieri ir-rwol ta’ periti li jaġixxu ta’ żviluppaturi, jkun regolat. Il-proposta tiegħi dakinnhar ma kienitx imxiet il-quddiem.

Sfortunatament, sal-lum, għad ma ittieħdet l-ebda azzjoni dwar dan kollu. Li nibqgħu ma tittieħed l-ebda azzjoni jfisser li l-qagħda preżenti tkun aċċettata bħala n-normalità. Sfortunatament dan hu konsistenti mal-valuri tas-soċjetà amorali li qed tiżviluppa madwarna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 28 t’Awwissu 2022

The kebab man and his business partner

The monstrosity dwarfing the Manikata chapel approved by the Planning Authority was considered acceptable by both the Archdiocese of Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. Both the Archbishop as well as the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage owe every one of us an apology for having withdrawn their objection to this development. They had originally submitted that the proposed development is incompatible with the chapel and its surroundings. Then they had second thoughts, thereby contributing to the development of this monstrosity.

Online news portal, Shift News, has revealed, earlier this week, that a man in the kebab business, in whose name the application was submitted has a silent business partner: the architect who signed the approved development application. The Shift News, also revealed that the architect is a co-owner of the development site through his 50 per cent ownership in Juke Developments Limited, the company which has taken charge of the development.

It is not on that architects are also developers.  This is a professional misconduct which is bringing the whole profession into disrepute. It is an ethical matter which has been repeatedly avoided by the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers, the professional body entrusted with regulating the architectural profession in the Maltese islands.

Around two years ago, in these columns, in an article entitled The architect-developer (8 March 2020) I had pointed out that the architect in charge of the development at Ħamrun, which development had, in its initial stages, resulted in the death of Miriam Pace, had a 10 per cent shareholding in the company which was carrying out the development.

The Code of Professional Conduct for architects practicing in the Maltese islands clearly lays down that a locally warranted architect “must not hold, assume or consciously accept a position in which his interest is in conflict with his professional duty.”

The point at issue is whether the professional duties of an architect in charge of a development are in conflict with the interests of being “the developer”. The architect in charge of a site of works is ultimately responsible for what goes on the site, even though he is nowadays assisted by a site officer who in most cases is rarely present on site! The developer, on the other hand is interested in the potential maximisation of profits resulting from the development of the site under consideration: making hay while the sun shines! The profits resulting from development should not be the professional’s motivation.

The Code of Professional Conduct abovementioned goes on to emphasise that a locally warranted architect “is remunerated solely by his professional fees payable by his clients and/or by his salary payable by his employer. He is debarred from any other source of remuneration in connection with the works and duties entrusted to him.”  In my opinion this clearly forbids architects from sharing in the profits of development and consequently in being developers, on their own or together with others.

Apparently, the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers disagrees with the above as it has been consistently silent on the matter. This silence has inevitably been interpreted by one and all as acquiescence: accepting the current state of affairs. It is consequently no wonder that the number of known cases of architects being silent partners in development projects is quietly on the increase. They are silent partners, meaning that they are aware that there is a conflict in their responsibilities which they do their best to hide in their pursuit of a share of the profits resulting from development.

Many years ago, when I was an elected member of the architects Warranting Board, I had presented a proposal to start regulating the role of architects who act as developers. My proposal was not acted upon.

Unfortunately, no action has been taken to date. Taking no action signifies accepting the present situation as the normal acceptable behaviour. This is unfortunately consistent with the norms of the amoral society which currently rules the roost.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 August 2022

From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Il-kosta tagħna lkoll: inħarsuha

Għaddej sforz kontinwu biex il-kosta tkun ikkommerċjalizzata. Sforz li ilu għaddej is-snin.

Il-jott marina proposta f’Marsaskala hi biss eżempju wieħed minn bosta li mhux limitati għan-nofsinnhar politiku, iżda li huma mifruxa mal-pajjiż.  Fost l-eżempji hemm it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, Manoel Island, il-Bajja tal-Balluta, ix-Xatt u l-jott marina tal-Birgu, il-jott marina fil-Kalkara u x-Xatt tal-Belt.  

Hemm ukoll għaddej il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-ispazji pubbliċi mal-kosta, bil-bankini b’kollox.

L-art pubblika kontinwament qed tkun trasformata f’minjiera ta’ profitti privati, ħafna drabi għall-magħżulin. Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti rari jagħtu każ tagħha, jekk mhux fl-aħħar minuta. Meta possibli jevitawha kompletament ukoll.

Għaddew madwar erba’ snin minn meta l-Parlament approva il-leġislazzjoni biex tissaħħah il-protezzjoni tal-kosta permezz tal-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku. Kellna kemm-il Ministru li tkellem b’mod pompuż dwar dan. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ippreżentaw lista ta’ iktar minn għoxrin sit, mifruxa mal-kost,a li kollha kemm huma jikkwalifikaw għall-protezzjoni. Ninsab infurmat li l-għaqdiet ambjentali għamlu riċerka estensiva dwar min hu sid din l-art. Iżda sfortunatament l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar qed iżommu dan il-proċess milli jitwettaq, anke għal dawk il-każijiet fejn l-art hi kollha kemm hi propjetà pubblika.  

Għalfejn jiġu approvati dawn il-liġijiet jekk ma hemm l-ebda intenzjoni li dawn ikunu implimentati?

Nafu li wieħed mill-impatti ewlenin tat-tibdil fil-klima fuq il-gżejjer, inkluż dawk Maltin, hu bit-tibdil fl-livell tal-baħar. Numru ta’ gżejjer fl-Oċejan Paċifiku li mhumiex wisq il-fuq minn livell il-baħar diġa bdew jisparixxu taħt baħar li l-livell tiegħu qed jogħla. Robert Abela, Prim Ministru, huwa u jindirizza l-laqgħa Internazzjonali fi Glasgow dwar it-tibdil fil-klima (COP26), iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, emfasizza dan il-punt.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ikollu impatt sostanzjali fuq il-gżejjer Maltin, skond kemm dan ikun kbir. Jeffettwa l-infrastruttura kostali kollha: l-infrastruttura marittima, dik tat-turiżmu, tal-ilma kif ukoll l-infrastruttura tal-enerġija li huma kollha b’xi mod marbuta mal-kosta. Kemm-il darba jogħla l-livell tal-baħar dawn kollha jitħarbtu.  Anke iż-żoni residenzjali viċin tal-kosta jsofru impatti mhux żgħar.  

Ħadd ma jaf eżatt dwar kemm, kif u meta dan ser iseħħ. L-ewwelnett għax il-proċess li bih dan iseħħ għad mhux mifhum biżżejjed. Imma ukoll għax għalkemm ma nistgħux nevitawh nistgħu nnaqqsu l-impatt tiegħu billi nindirzzaw u nnaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju.

Repetutatament fil-laqgħat tal-UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) li jsiru regolarment tul is-snin, kien hemm emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura globali minn kif kienet fl-era pre-industrijali ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius. Dan sar fuq insistenza tal-istati gżejjer u tal-pajjiżi sottożviluppati, għax għal snin twal il-limitu raġjonevoli kien meqjus li kien ta’ 2 gradi Celsius. Pass ieħor il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.

F’Pariġu fl-2015 kien hemm qbil dwar dan kollu. Imma sfortunatament dan ma kienx ikkonvertit f’azzjoni. Huwa dak li issa qed nistennew li jseħħ fi Glasgow.

Huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima bis-serjetà. Anke l-ħarsien tal-kosta jiddependi minn hekk.

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Novembru 2021

Claiming back (and protecting) our coast

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is just one example. It is possibly the latest of many examples, not just in the political south, but throughout the Maltese islands. The Freeport Terminal, Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront are some of the most glaring examples which come to mind.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases,the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is avoided completely.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Much was said pompously by many a Minister. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We are aware that one of the main areas through which climate change will impact islands, including the Maltese islands, is through sea level rise.  A number of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are already in the process of disappearing below a rising sea level.  Robert Abela, Prime Minister, addressing the Glasgow Climate Change COP26 earlier this week emphasised this point.

A rise in sea level will have a substantial impact on the Maltese islands, depending on its extent. It will impact the coastal infrastructure: the maritime, tourism, as well as the water and electricity infrastructure are all linked to our coast. A sea level rise will play havoc with all this. It will even impact the residential areas which have been developed close to the coast.

No one is certain as to when, how and the extent of this happening. Primarily this is due to the fact the natural processes in play are not fully understood yet. It is also however possible that mitigation measures planned and in hand to reduce carbon emissions could be quite effective if taken up.

During UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) meetings it is continuously emphasised that the increase in global mean temperature should not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. This is the result of extensive lobbying by island states and under-developed countries over the years. They have been successful in adjusting the objective from the previous 2 degree Celsius.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. 

In Paris in 2015 this was already agreed upon. Yet it was all words, none of which was converted into action. At Glasgow we need some decisions which are implemented the soonest.

Taking definite action on climate change is required to protect our coast.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 November 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021