When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

It-Torri tat-Toyota

Il-bieraħ attendejt għal laqgħa tar-residenti ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ li issejħet biex ir-residenti jiddiskutu l-impatti tat-Torri tat-Toyota li dwaru saret applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp (outline) riċentement.

Ir-residenti huma inkwetati u bir-raġun, għax dan it-torri mhux postu hemm.

Tajjeb li ngħid mill-ewwel li imkien fil-policies tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma hemm indikat li jista’ jinbena dan it-tip ta’ bini ġo Ħaż-Żebbuġ.

L-impatti fuq in-nies huma bosta.

L-iktar waħda ovvja hi li ser ikerraħ l-iskyline ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Imma ser jiġġenera iktar traffiku f’post li għax hu żviluppat kważi kollu għar-residenzi ma jiflaħ dan it-traffiku kollu.

Ser jiġġenera iktar dellijiet fuqil-propjetajiet tal-viċin, li, fejn għandhom il-pannelli fotovoltajċi jew solar water heaters, naħseb li jistgħu jaħsbu biex jarmuhom!

Issa jidher li waslet id-daqqa ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Ir-residenti għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna u l-appoġġ. Ngħinuhom u nappoġġawhom kif appoġġajna lil kull min kellu bżonn l-għajnuna fil-ġlieda kontinwa kontra l-iżvilupp bla rażan, li ma jirrispetta lil ħadd.

Marsa: a planning mess


The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

Tall Buildings : the advice ignored by the Maltese authorities

Ali report


“Tall buildings cannot be avoided in our times. The choice we have is whether to control them or else whether to put up with their future growth.” These were the concluding comments of a report drawn up by Professor Mir Ali from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USA after a visit to Malta in 2008 during which he met with and advised MEPA on the future of tall buildings in Malta.The report is entitled Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.

Professor Ali’s report contains recommendations most of which are as relevant today as when they were originally drafted. Central to these recommendations, way back in 2008, was the need to draw a master plan addressing tall buildings and their impacts. “Lack of a master plan,”  Professor Ali stated, “results in uncontrolled developments and unpredictable impacts on urban life.”  The developed master plan,  Prof. Ali emphasised, should be “for Malta as a whole and for the selected sites for tall buildings, individually.”  Drawing up such a master plan with a reasonable level of detail will take time to carry out, a considerable portion of which should be utilised in consultation, primarily with the residents to be impacted. Certainly much more time would be required than the November 2016 target indicated by the government earlier this week.  A moratorium on the issuing of any development permit for high-rises until such time that a master plan has been discussed and approved would be a very reasonable course of action.

Professor Ali considered six sites, which were indicated to him by MEPA, as having the potential of hosting high-rise development. He proposed the following rank order : Qawra, Gżira, Tignè, Paceville, Pembroke and Marsa.  Such a ranking order by Prof. Ali is qualified by an emphasis on the substantial infusion of public monies which is required. Prof. Ali commented that if the number of sites are reduced to less than six it would be much better for Malta.

Professor Ali made a number of incisive remarks.

There is a need for an objective market and feasibility study for each project, which study should include the life cycle cost of the project. In view of the high vacancy rate of existing residential units, Prof. Ali queried the kind of occupancy expected of high-rises. Failure of high-rises will impact the economy of the whole of Malta which has no safety valve because of its size and lack of adequate elasticity, he stressed.

An efficient public transport is a fundamental requirement for the Maltese islands irrespective of whether high-rises are developed or not. But for the success of tall buildings “an integrated sustainable public transport system” is absolutely necessary. Yet, surprise, surprise, Professor Ali observed that “there is no efficient public transport system that is efficient and that covers the whole of Malta”

Sounds like familiar territory!

Infrastructural deficiencies must be addressed. If the existing infrastructure is inadequate or in a state of disrepair it must be upgraded and expanded to meet future needs. Tignè residents in Sliema have much to say about the matter, not just with reference to the state of the roads in the area but more on the present state of the public sewers! Residents of the Tignè peninsula are not the only ones who urgently require an upgrade of their infrastructural services. Residents in many other localities have similar requirements.

Social and environmental impacts of tall buildings must be considered thoroughly at the design stage. However Maltese authorities have developed the habit of ignoring the social impacts of development projects. In addition, it is very worrying that, as reported in the press earlier during this week,  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat does not seem to be losing any sleep over the matter.

People living in a low-rise environment consider high-rises as intrusive. Unless public participation is factored in at a very early stage through planned beneficial impacts on the community in terms of economic benefits, upgrade of services and the general benefits of the redevelopment of the surroundings, such projects do not have a future.

The upkeep of high-rises is quite a challenge which requires skills that are different from low-rise buildings. Notwithstanding changes to the relevant provisions of the law, there already exist serious difficulties in bringing together owners of low-rise multi-owned properties in order that they can ensure that maintenance of such properties is addressed. The challenge of high-rises is exponentially more complex.

The above is a snap-shot of Prof. Ali’s report. From what I’ve heard from a number  of people who met Professor Ali, he was more vociferous in his verbal utterances. Unfortunately,  his advice has been largely ignored.


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 26 June 2016

Fl-2015, l-ambjent taħt assedju. Fl-2016 l-assedju ikompli.

msida_water. 021015


Is-sena 2015 kienet waħda li fiha l-ambjent kien taħt assedju. Assedju li bla dubju ser jintensifika ruħu matul is-sena d-dieħla. Għax ma hemm l-ebda dubju li l-aġenda tal-Labour hi waħda kontra l-ambjent.

Bla dubju mument importanti fl-2015 kien ir-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li intilef bi sbrixx imma li xorta wassal messaġġ qawwi, prinċipalment minħabba li huwa riżultat li nkiseb minkejja li kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL dejjem appoġġaw il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Wara spikka il-każ taż-Żonqor li wassal għal dimostrazzjoni kbira ġol-Belt. Iktar tard il-Gvern ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li kien qed jagħti kaz u dan billi ċċaqlaq ftit.

Il-qagħda tat-trasport pubbliku matul l-2015 tjibiet ftit imma għadha lura ħafna minn dak li jixraqlu u għandu bżonn dan il-pajjiż. Hi l-unika tama li tista’ tnaqqas il-pressjoni taż-żieda tal-karozzi fit-toroq. Hi l-unika tama għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja. Inutli jwaħħlu fil-ħinijiet tal-ftuħ tal-iskejjel.

Matul l-2015 l-ilma tax-xita flok ma jinġabar fi bjar li qatt ma saru, baqa’ jintefa’ fit-toroq. Issa li x-xogħol fuq il-mini taħt l-art ġie konkluż il-periklu fit-toroq ser jonqos għax il-parti l-kbira tal-ilma ser jispiċċa l-baħar. Il-flus li intefqgħu fuq dawn il-mini kienu fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom flus moħlija. Kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku intefqgħu biex l-ilma jinġabar flok biex jintrema.

F’nofs dawn l-aħbarijiet negattivi kollha ġiet ippubblikata l-enċiklika ambjentali tal-Papa Franġisku. Fiha tinħass sewwa t-togħma Latino-Amerikana ta’ Leonardo Boff li tenfasizza r-rabta bejn il-faqar u t-tħassir ambjentali. Hemm tama li din l-enċiklika tista’ tkun ta’ siwi biex iktar nies jiftħu għajnejhom.

F’Ġunju l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni qalilna li l-PN fil-Gvern għamel diversi żbalji ambjentali u li jixtieq li jibda paġna ġdida. Din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Busuttil tikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal fir-rapport tal-PN dwar it-telfa fejn ġie emfasizzat li l-PN kien vittma ta’ sabutaġġ minn dawk maħtura biex imexxu (inkluż ovvjament mill-MEPA).

Il-battalja tat-torrijiet għadha magħna. Preżentement hemm pendenti żewġ applikazzjonijiet f’tas-Sliema, waħda f’Townsquare (38 sular) u oħra f’Fort Cambridge (40 sular). Ir-residenti, li bħal dejjem jispiċċaw iġorru l-konsegwenzi ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huma injorati.

Kellna t-tniġġiż fil-baħar. Diversi inċidenti fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk li bihom ġie ikkonfermat, jekk qatt kien hemm ħtieġa ta’ dan, li l-Bajja s-Sabiħa m’għandhiex iktar sabiħa. Dan minħabba li issa l-port sar definittivament wieħed industrijali. L-unika ħaġa li jonqos huwa t-tanker sorġut b’mod permanenti fil-port biex fih jinħażen il-gass.

Nhar is-Sibt jorħos il-prezz tal-petrol u d-diesel. Għal uħud imissu ilu li raħas. Forsi kien ikun aħjar li ma raħas xejn. Hemm bżonn kull mezz possibli biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq. Il-prezz tal-fuel hu wieħed minn diversi miżuri li jekk użati bil-għaqal jistgħu jagħtu frott. Il-problema imma, sfortunatament hi li ma hemmx volontà politika.

IL-MEPA ser tinqasam. L-ippjanar għalih u l-ambjent għalih. Mhux ser isir wisq ġid b’din il-miżura għax is-saħħa amministrattiva li għandu pajjiż żgħir ġejja miċ-ċokon tiegħu. Meta taqsam l-awtorita f’biċċiet tkun ferm inqas effettiv. Hekk ser jiġri. Il-MEPA ma kienitx qed taħdem sewwa għax ma ħallewiex taħdem sewwa. Għax kienet imxekkla minn bordijiet li jew ma jifhmux inkella b’aġenda moħbija.

Dan hu l-wirt li s-sena 2015 ser tħalli lis-sena 2016. L-unika ħaġa pożittiva hi li bil-mod qed tiżviluppa kuxjenza ambjentali fost il-ġenerazzjonijiet li tielgħin.

Is-sena t-tajba? Forsi.

Overdevelopment of the Tigné peninsula


by Carmel Cacopardo

published on April 10, 2010

The publication of the State of the Environment Report (SoER) for 2008 is an opportunity to take stock of the manner in which environmental responsibilities are being shouldered or neglected. One point the SoER fails to inform about is the link between overdevelopment and a negative social and environmental impact on the community.

Tigné peninsula in Sliema is a suitable example.

Two of the mega-projects in Tigné, namely the Midi and Fort Cambridge projects, have government fingerprints. The social and environmental impacts on the Sliema community more than outweigh the economic benefits derived. Yet, they have been given the go-ahead. While these two mega-projects were approved by Mepa, a third (Townsquare) is being processed. Other projects of various sizes and impacts have been approved or are in the pipeline both in Tigné and in other parts of Sliema.

Focusing on the macro-scale, three main issues need to be addressed: vacant dwellings, traffic generation and the quality of air.

In my opinion, given the large number of vacant dwellings, further large-scale development is not required. About 54,000 vacant dwellings were identified during the 2005 census and this number has been on the increase ever since.

Newly-constructed dwellings may or will be occupied but they are still the cause of a disintegration of the existing urban fabric in various localities as a result of an internal migration away from existing settlements.

Some areas are being depopulated, awaiting their turn to be demolished and redeveloped after someone makes a quick buck. The few remaining tenants are then squeezed out by “developers”. Some years back, an old lady at The Strand, Sliema, was faced with buildings being demolished all around (and above) her home in order to persuade her to move out.

This is resulting not just in urban decay but also in the forfeiture of an accumulated social capital.

This is not surprising in a society that only appreciates financial capital. Unfortunately, public authorities are on the same wavelength.

The 710 vehicles on the road per 1,000 population (2008 figures) is substantial. In a small country, rather than being a sign of affluence, this vehicle per capita ratio is the clearest indicator of the failure of public policy to address issues of sustainable mobility over the years. Past governments have been ineffective in this respect. The large number of dwellings being constructed at Tigné peninsula begs the question as to where the substantial additional traffic generated is to be accommodated. I am referring to both the traffic directed at the new residences and that directed towards the new commercial outlets. Roads in Malta are already bursting at the seams.

When Mepa is approving more intensive development through the construction of high-rise buildings, it is not giving sufficient weight to these impacts. In particular, it is ignoring the cumulative effects of so large a number of developments in so restricted a space.

A Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of the local plans and planning policies would have pinpointed these shortcomings had it been carried out. Yet, the government tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities by clinging to a loophole, which exempted it from applying the SEA to policies on land-use planning. This has been done by a government that boasts about the central importance of the environment in its electoral platform. Yet, when push comes to shove, it wriggles out of its commitments.

Quality of air data is only made available relative to 2006 and 2007 in the SoER indicators.

Limiting my comments to the 2007 data relative to the Msida station, the available SoER indicators clearly show that PM10 measurements exceeded the EU limits on 24 per cent of the days measured and were very close to the permissible limit of 50μg/m3 with respect to the rest.

PM10 measures particulate matter, having a diameter not exceeding 10 microns. The primary source of such particulate matter, as is also emphasised by the SoER indicators, is fuel combustion from traffic and power generation. It is therefore clear that heavy traffic increases the incidence of PM10 with the consequent risks of a greater incidence of respiratory diseases. Studies carried out in Fgura and Żejtun in the 1990s point in this direction too.

These are the risks posed by an increase in traffic in an area such as Sliema, which is already heavily congested.

The issue of development has so far been considered within the framework of the rights of the owners of the property to be developed. It is about time that the rights of the community are factored in as, to date, they are not being given sufficient weight. In particular, the cumulative impacts of development are being ignored. This is applicable not just to Sliema but to all Maltese territory.

The net result is a quality of life which could be much better.