Wegħda 336 : il-Labour u l-ODZ

Kif jidher fis-silta ta’ hawn fuq mill-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista ta’ Marzu 2022, ġejna mwegħda regoli iktar stretti fejn jidħol żvilupp f’ODZ.

Il-proposti għal amnestija oħra għal żvilupp ODZ li sar qabel l-2016 juri kemm anke f’din ma hemm l-ebda serjetà. Moħħhom biss biex jgħaddu ż-żmien bin-nies.

Għalfejn isiru il-liġijiet u r-regolamenti jekk kontinwament naraw kif isiru l-eċċezzjonijiet u nippruvaw niġġustifikaw lil min ma jimxix magħhom?

Permezz ta’ din l-amnestija ġdida li tiġġustifika l-abbużi fl-ODZ għal darboħra l-Gvern qiegħed jippremja lil min abbuża u qiegħed ikompli jittrasforma lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’aġent għall-abbużi, fejn jekk tħallas multa sostanzjali tista’ tiġġustifika l-abbużi tal-iżvilupp.

Il-Labour għal darboħra wiegħed ħaġa u qiegħed jagħmel oħra: kompletament bil-maqlub. Il-Partit Laburista għadu ħiereġ minn elezzjoni ġenerali li fiha kellu manifest elettorali li fih wiegħed illi se jassigura illi ż-żona barra mill-linja tal-iżvilupp (l-ODZ) tkun imħarsa iktar minn qatt qabel. Minflok, bil-proposti li qiegħed jagħmel illum il-ġurnata qed iħares lil min jabbuża, sakemm dak li jkun ikun lest li jħallas. Il-Labour fil-Gvern qed ikun konsistenti, konsistenti fil-mod illi fil-qasam ambjentali jimxi bil-maqlub ta’ kif wiegħed. Din l-amnestija  tkompli fuq l-ewwel amnestija favur l-abbużi fil-qasam tal-ippjanar sitt snin ilu.

 Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern qed jagħti l-messaġġ li fil-qasam tal-ippjanar tista’ tħawwad għax b’xi mod jew ieħor fl-aħħar tirranġa, basta tħallas. Mal-Labour, bil-flus tirranġa.

L-iskema l-ġdida qegħda testendi l-amnestija li kienet ħarġet fl-2016 billi tinkludi ukoll żvilupp li jinstab barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Din l-iskema titkellem primarjament dwar żvilupp parzjali bla permess fl-ODZ.

 Din l-amnestija hi insult lil min għażel li jimxi sewwa u josserva l-liġi u r-regolamenti u jimxi mal-kundizzjonijiet tal-permess ta’ żvilupp. L-amnestija hi dikjarazzjoni ta’ falliment fil-qasam tal-infurzar. In-numru ta’ każijiet kompla jikber, sena wara l-oħra, għax l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma kinitx kapaċi tinforza l-liġi quddiem min kien lest li jisfidaha.

Kultant l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tagħmel show biex taparsi qed tagħmel xogħolha. Pero wara din il-faċċata tat-teatrin ma hemm xejn, ma hemm l-ebda serjetà.

Lil min sfida u għamel ta’ rasu qed jgħidulu: issa ħallas multa u qisu qatt ma kien xejn!

Minflok dawn l-amnestiji biex tiġġustifika l-iżvilupp ta’ art ODZ ikun iktar għaqli kienu l-Gvern jibda l-proċess biex art ODZ li fl-2006 saret tajba għal-iżvilupp ma tibqax żviluppabbli. Ilna s-snin issa nitkellmu dwar reviżjoni tal-pjani lokali. Saru anke laqgħat ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar dan imma s’issa għadu ma immaterjalizza xejn.

Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern qed jagħmel minn kollox biex jiġġustifika żvilupp abbużiv barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. L-inqas ħaġa li konna nistennew f’dan il-mument hi amnestija li tiġġustifika iktar l-abbużi ta’ żvilupp tal-art. L-amnestija qed tippremja lil min abbuża u fl-istess ħin qed tikkastiga lil min mexa sewwa. Hi fuq kollox dikjarazzjoni ta’ falliment fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika biex tinforza l-liġi. Tagħti messaġġ wieħed inkwetanti: għamel li trid għax mal-Labour tirranġa!

Wara dan kollu, dawn ma jistħux jitkellmu fuq is-saltna tad-dritt!

(dan hu rapport ta’ dak li ntqal f’konferenza stampa dalgħodu quddiem l-uffiċini tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar il-Floriana minn Carmel Cacopardo u Ralph Cassar)

ara ukoll rapporti kif gej:

Times of Malta: With Labour, money talks: Government slammed for ODZ amnesty scheme

Malta Today : Money Talks with Labour: Greens slam Government for ODZ abuse amnesties

Malta Independent: With Labour, money talks – ADPD

Newsbook: Bil-flus mal-Labour tirranga – ADPD

TVM : L-ADPD jgħid li l-estensjoni ta’ skema f’żoni barra mill-iżvilupp tista’ twassal għall-abbużi

Inħarsu l-art agrikola: kollha

Tul is-snin il-Gvern dejjem kien fuq quddiem fil-ħidma biex tinqered il-biedja. Kontinwament il-Gvern jagħmilha iktar faċli biex art agrikola tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Huwa l-Gvern li kontinwament jidentifika art agrikola tajba għal toroq ġodda (mhux meħtieġa) inkella biex jestendi toroq eżistenti.

Il-White Paper li ippubblika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura, intitolata Riforma fil-Qasam tar-Raba’  tfittex li tirregola l-assalt tas-settur privat fuq l-art agrikola. Imma ma issemmi xejn dwar l-assalt li għaddej mis-settur pubbliku: dak għall-Gvern hu aċċettabbli! Imma m’għandux ikun għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa.

Awtoritajiet eżistenti, bħall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, diġa għandhom il-poteri bil-liġi biex jieħdu passi u ma jħallux l-art agrikola tinbidel f’art għall-picnics jew għall-barbeques! Imma tul is-snin din l-awtorità ma għamlet xejn minn dan. Għalqet għajnejha.

Id-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura imbagħad, dejjem jispiċċa jiddefendi id-deċiżjonijiet tal-Gvern favur il-qerda tar-raba’ għal toroq inutli. Is-Central Link hi waħda mill-aħħar eżempji li miegħu aħna familjari. Hemmhekk raba’ saqwi f’Ħ’Attard inqerdet fl-interess tal-karozzi. L-għixien ta’ numru ta’ bdiewa inqered. L-anqas ħoss mill-awtoritajiet fid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura ma nstema’ biex jiddefendu lill-bdiewa li laqqtuha.

B’dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritajiet li mhux kapaċi jaħdmu, x’sens hemm fil-ħolqien ta’ iktar awtoritajiet bħalhom? Mhux aħjar li jitneħħew is-sriep mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u mid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura u flokhom ikunu ngaġġati persuni kwalifikati u motivati biex jaħdmu? Għax jekk l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa, bi tmexxija tajba u kapaċi, parti mdaqqsa mill-kontenut tal-White Paper ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa għalih!

Lejn l-aħħar tas-sena 2021 l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff, f’deċiżjoni tiegħu dwar applikazzjoni kostituzzjonali fuq raba’ fil-Qrendi kien emfasizza li l-valur realistiku tar-raba’ għandu jkun rifless ta’ dak li l-istess raba’ tista’ tipproduċi. Dan hu punt li l-White Paper tibni fuqu meta titkellem dwar il-valur esaġerat li r-raba’ qed jinbiegħ jew jiġi stmat kif ukoll dwar kif għandha tkun ikkalkulata l-valur tal-qbiela. Il-White Paper fil-fatt tipproponi li l-qbiela għandhom ikunu 1.5 fil-mija tal-valur realistiku tar-raba’. Għad irridu naraw, iżda, kemm dan kollu ser jiflaħ għall-battalji legali li inevitabilment ser ifaqqsu da parti ta’ min ma jridx din ir-regolamentazzjoni.

Punt interessanti li joħrog mill-White Paper hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa li hu propost li titħallas fuq ir-raba’ li ma tibqax tintuża għal skop agrikolu. Din il-proposta hi simili għall-proposti tal-partit tiegħi dwar taxxa fuq propjetajet vojta liema proposti saru f’diversi manifesti elettorali tul is-snin.  

Safejn niftakar, din hi l-ewwel darba li l-Partit Laburista qed jipproponi li jagħmel użu mit-tassazzjoni bħala għodda biex jilħaq oġġettiv politiku: f’dan il-każ il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Ma naħsibx li din il-proposta partikolari ser timmaterjalizza u dan minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kontinwament jitkellem b’ċerta qawwa kontra l-użu tat-tassazzjoni bħala strument politiku fi kwalunkwe forma. Imma l-fatt li l-proposta qed issir, minnu nnifsu hu pass tajjeb.

Il-proposti fil-White Paper fuq ir-riforma meħtieġa dwar ir-raba’ huma l-ewwel pass lejn diskussjoni serja u matura. Imma għadhom il-bogħod  minn dak li hu meħtieġ.  

L-ewwel pass għandu jsir biex ikun stabilit element ta’ rieda tajba. B’dan il-ħsieb nistieden lill-Gvern biex jippreżenta mozzjoni fil-Parlament biex iħassar l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni approvat mill-Parlament fl-2006 u li permezz tiegħu eluf ta’ metri kwadri ta’ raba’ spiċċaw tajba biex jinbnew. Naħseb li l-Ministru tal-Agrikultura tal-lum, Anton Refalo, għandu l-kredibilità biex jagħmel dan il-pass. Hu wieħed mill-ftit Membri Parlamentari li għadhom fil-Kamra u li fl-2006 kienu ivvutaw kontra li din l-art tingħata għal-iżvilupp. Għamel dan flimkien ma sħabu tal-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta’ dakinnhar!

Bħala t-tieni pass il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar għall-Iżvilupp tal-Art jista jħaffef ftit il-pass li bih għandhom ikunu reveduti r-regoli dwar id-diżinn għall-iżvilupp rurali (Rural Design Guidelines). Forsi, ma tafx kif, jingħalqu darba għal dejjem it-toqob fir-regoli, li bihom qed ikun imħeġġeg l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja.

Imbagħad, kieku dan kellu jsir, il-Gvern ikun kredibbli fil-proposti li qed jagħmel dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ il-ħarsien mingħandna. Dan hu meħtieġ dejjem, mhux biss meta jkun politikament konvenjenti.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 t’Ottubru 2022

Protecting agricultural land: all of it

Over the years government has been actively at the forefront in the assault on agricultural land. It continuously makes it easier for agricultural land to be developed. It also takes up good quality agricultural land in order to develop new (and many times unnecessary) roads or else to extend existing ones.

The White Paper published earlier this week by the Ministry for Agriculture, entitled Agricultural Land Reform seeks to control the private sector assault on agricultural land. By omission, the assault being carried out by the public sector is being deemed acceptable!

Existing authorities like the Planning Authority already have the legal powers to stop agricultural land being transformed into picnic or barbeque areas. Yet it has done nothing to stop this over the years.

The Department of Agriculture always ends up defending the uptake of good agricultural land by Government for unnecessary roads. The Central Link is one of the latest examples as a result of which naturally irrigated agricultural land at Attard was destroyed in order to make way for more cars. The livelihood of a number of full-time farmers was destroyed. Not even a whimper from the authorities at the Department of Agriculture was heard.

Faced with existing authorities which are not functioning properly what sense does it make to create more authorities, as proposed by the agricultural reform White Paper? Would it not be better to remove the snakes from the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture and replace them with suitably qualified and motivated personnel? If the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture are allowed to function properly, with suitable leadership and expertise, most of the contents of the White Paper would not even be required!

Towards the end of 2021 Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, in his decision on a constitutional application relative to agricultural land at Qrendi had emphasised that the realistic value of agricultural land ought to be a reflection of what that agricultural land can produce. This is a point validly taken up by the White Paper when discussing the value currently being attached to agricultural holdings. The White Paper also proposes that the rental value of agricultural holdings should be determined at 1.5 per cent of their realistic value.  It remains to be seen whether and to what extent these limitations on the determination of value and rental value will be able to withstand the legal assault which will inevitably follow once the White paper proposal in this respect is implemented.

An interesting point made by the White Paper is to introduce a tax on agricultural land which is not being used for agricultural purposes! This is similar to the proposals which my party repeatedly brought forward relative to taxes on vacant dwellings!

This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, that the Labour Party is proposing the utilisation of taxation as a tool to attain a political objective: the protection of agricultural land. I do not however think that this proposal will materialise as the Labour Party has been vociferous over the years against the use of taxation as a political instrument in any form or shape. However, it is positive that the proposal is being tabled.

The proposals in the White Paper on agricultural reform are definitely a first step towards a mature debate. They are however very far from what is required to protect agricultural land.

The first step should be to establish an element of good faith, which is currently inexistent. In this line of thought I would invite government to present a motion in Parliament to cancel the rationalisation exercise approved by Parliament in 2006 as a result of which thousands of square metres of agricultural land all over the islands were defined as being suitable for development. I believe that the current Minister for Agricultural, Anton Refalo, has the credibility to do it. He is in fact one of the few remaining Members of Parliament who way back in 2006 had voted against adopting the rationalisation exercise, together with the rest of the then Labour Party Parliamentary Group!

As a second step the Minister for Land Use Planning could accelerate the revision of the Rural Design Guidelines, thereby closing the loopholes which continuously encourage the urbanisation of the countryside.

Only then, maybe, can government be credible in its proposals to protect agricultural land. All agricultural land needs our protection. This is required all of the time, not only when it is politically convenient.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 October 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

Zlatan Ibrahimovich u l-Manikata

Madwar sena ilu Zlatan Ibrahimovich kien immultat €50,000 mill-UEFA minħabba l-interessi tiegħu f’kumpanija tal-imħatri.

Ibrahimovich kellu sehem ta’ 10% fl-isħma tal-kumpanija tal-imħatri Bethard.

Il-UEFA f’dan il-kaz ħadet passi dwar kunflitt ta’ interess!

Kemm baqa’ x’nistennew biex il-Kamra tal-Periti tieħu passi dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess fl-iżvilupp tal-Manikata, fejn Perit li ismu ma jidhirx għandu 50% sehem mill-iżvilupp moqżież biswit il-kappella tal-Manikata?

Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 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